Visiting Merryvale Vineyards in St. Helena is like taking a walk back into the history of Napa Valley. Lining the walls of the winery’s inner sanctum are rows of hundred year old, 2000 gallon wooden casks, proudly enduring like retired ships — heroes in their day. It was one of the first wineries built in Napa after Prohibition ended, and its long history includes stints as a production facility and a co-op. The winery has also been the workplace and training ground of some legendary Napa figures including Cesare Mondavi and his two sons, Peter and Robert.
As a brand, Merryvale started in 1983. The first wines were made at a custom crush facility in Calistoga by Bill Harlan and Bob Levy. Harlan bought the historic St. Helena facility in 1986 and moved the Merryvale operation there in 1991, the same year that Jack Schlatter became a partner. This was the beginning of the modern era at Merryvale. Jack became the winery’s sole owner in 1996 and it is still a family business today — Jack’s son René is now president of Merryvale along with the family’s other estate, Starmont Winery and Vineyards.
Merryvale is an excellent source of superbly well-made wines with classic Napa character. Fruit for the wines is sourced from some of the top sites in the valley and also grown at the family’s two estate vineyards, the Stanly Ranch Vineyard and the Schlatter Family Vineyard. The Stanly Ranch Vineyard sits on the eastern edge of the Carneros AVA, and is planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and a tiny amount of Viognier. There is quite a bit of history associated with the property, which was part of Judge Stanly’s original estate in the 1800s — one of the first to grow grapes in California. In the 1950s, important Chardonnay and Pinot Noir clonal trials were conducted there by the University of California at Davis along with the Wente family and Louis Martini.
The Schlatter Family Vineyard was purchased in 1997 from Narsai David. At the time, the vineyard needed work — because of water scarcity, only 10 of the property’s 80 acres were under vine. But the Schlatters did their research, bringing in a dowser to find several wells, and it was determined that the property was viable for sale. It is a spectacular site, perched on a ridge that separates Conn Valley and Spring Valley, adjacent to Bond’s Quella property at an elevation of 900 feet. Soils are mainly Forward Kidd series, with varying degrees of sandstone and volcanic rock interspersed. The Schlatters replanted the steeply pitched hills in 1997, taking out the terraces and also implementing more sustainable (nearly organic) farming practices. Today there are 25 acres planted, 21.6 of Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.4 of Petit Verdot, and 1.3 of Cabernet Franc. The fruit, which is all harvested by hand, is a major component in the Profile Proprietary Red, and the sole source for the St. Helena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.