Merlo Family Estate Vineyards, National Drink Wine Day, Old Sugar Mill, Pinot Noir, Wine

Random Musings, February 2017

Blame it on the rain. Northern California has been slammed with a series of winter storms, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a years. As much as we need the rain, we’re Californians, and we really miss our sunshine! Or maybe it’s the recent political climate in our country. Nuf said about that. Perhaps most obviously, it could be the life changes I’m going through that, among other things, have caused a change in my wine-drinking habits. The Big D means that most nights, if I’m drinking, I’m drinking solo. A bottle of wine that nicely serves two people in an evening now lasts me 2-3 days; even four days on occasion! Whatever the cause, I’ve been drinking less wine recently, and have also been suffering from a bout of writer’s block.

Don’t cry for me, however. I’ve been active and busy, going to Meetup events, meeting lots of amazing people, and making new friends in the process. Quite frankly, thinks are looking up, and I feel like I’ve got a bit of my mojo back! With that in mind, I thought I’d piece together a few thoughts – blog ideas from the past few weeks that never got off the ground.

Blues Bars, Beer, and Whiskey


One of the Meetup groups I joined is all about the Blues. They meet several times per week at various bars in the area to listen to Blues bands, dance, and have an all-around good time! Interestingly, I was never much of a Blues fan before. However, I’ve learned that this is because I’d only ever listened to the Blues on the radio. Now I know that Blues is a dish best served HOT! Live Blues is amazing! Where do you find the best Blues? Dive bars. Bars that sell beer by the tanker truck, whiskey, and basic (really basic; 2-3 ingredient) cocktails. These are not establishments that have a well-developed wine program. Who are we kidding? Most don’t have a wine program at all! So this has enabled me to get my beer groove on and explore the wide and wonderful world of brewski! Local craft beer, nationally known brands, and yes, even the occasional, ubiquitous Bud Light. There’s no risk (that I can foresee) of me dividing my loyalty and becoming a beer blogger, but there is a lot of great beer out there, and some pretty amazing people who drink it!

On nights when beer doesn’t appeal, I’ve also become better acquainted to the delights of brown liquor. Whiskey is another pleasing libation that pairs well with live Blues. At a more upscale cocktail bar, I’m generally inclined to order an Old Fashioned (which, ahem, I’ve been drinking since long before Mad Men, so no, I’m not just following a trend!) or a Manhattan. At a dive, Jamie and Ginger is my go-to. (Worried about dirty lines feeding your bartender’s soda gun? Most places don’t run ginger ale through the gun, so you get a freshly opened can from the fridge. Smart, huh?)

Of course, if Blues isn’t your thing, there is plenty of variety in the live music scene in most towns and cities. I hope I’ve inspired some of you to get up, get out, and go listen to some live music!

The Old Sugar Mill: Port, Wine, and Chocolate Lovers

Those of you who are longsuffering dedicated readers of my little corner of the Interwebs may recall my post about The Old Sugar Mill. (<– That’s a link, if you want to pause here to get caught up.) The Old Sugar Mill a wine lover’s fantasy destination, currently housing 13 winery tasting rooms in one location! Last weekend was their annual Port, Wine, and Chocolate Lovers’ Weekend. It’s an amazing event that I’ve missed in prior years. Admission gets you tastes at nearly all of the wineries, plus chocolate samples, live music, and access to some of the region’s best gourmet food trucks! This year I attended with a friend I met through another Meetup group. It was a blast! I was having so much fun; I forgot to take pictures – except this one.


House Parties

I’ve also been attending a few house parties, which is a great way to meet and mingle. One I recently attended was wine themed. Being a wine guy, I naturally grabbed a nice bottle from my cellar. By no small coincidence, it was from one of my favorite wineries at The Old Sugar Mill. The Merlo Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012 was a huge hit! It was the first bottle to run dry, of the 20 or more available at the party. Not pricy by Pinot Noir standards, it retails for $27, but Ray Merlo is a strong advocate for wine education, and a firm believer in the notion that if people can’t afford it, they can’t enjoy it. I’ve had comparable Pinot in the $35-45 range.


Here’s my review:

Rich, earthy Pinot Noir, in the classic NorCal style. Purple color with a ruby rim. Aromas of ripe plums and spice. Flavors of ripe plum, blueberry, cherry, and earth with a lingering finish of dark fruit and soft earth tones.

4.0 out of 5 stars (88 – 91 points)

What surprised me about the event was the number of bottom shelf bottles that appeared on the wine table. While they will remain nameless, I am familiar with most of the labels I saw and know them to be “meh” wines in the sub-$5 range. Now, I understand that not everybody is a wine geek like me, and maybe the wine they brought is the wine they drink regularly. Still, when I’m bringing a bottle to an event, I like to step it up and bring something special. Maybe that’s just me.

National Drink Wine Day


Finally, if you were anywhere within 10 miles of Social Media, or your favorite wine geek, you know that yesterday was National Drink Wine Day. I’m still not sure why someone decided we need a special day to celebrate drinking wine, but who am I to question? Always one to follow the rules, I made my way, with a wine-loving friend, to my favorite local wine bar where we enjoyed some good wine and great conversation. You just gotta love holidays!



Merlo Family Estate Vineyards, Trinity County, Trinity Lakes AVA, Wine

Lesser Known AVAs: Trinity County

Merlo Family Vineyards
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Trinity County has the distinction of being the third leg of the infamous “Emerald Triangle,” the prolific and prosperous Northern California marijuana growing region. Landlocked, it is somewhat less famous than its coastal neighbors, Mendocino and Humboldt counties.emeraldtriangle_narrow It is also much more remote and difficult to access, which contributes to its mystery and intrigue. The primary legal industry (at the time of this writing, cultivation of marijuana is still illegal) is timber, although that has been in decline for some years. Fortunately, Trinity County boasts some very rugged terrain with a variety of rich soils, the result of centuries of geologic upheaval, which are excellent for growing vitis vinifera.

The official American Viticultural Area (AVA) located within Trinity County is the Trinity Lakes AVA. There are only two wineries located within the Trinity Lakes AVA, (Alpen Cellars and One Maple Estate Vineyards & Winery), but there are others in the greater Trinity County region. The entirety of Trinity County is not yet recognized as an AVA yet, but it is just a matter of time. The rugged beauty of this part of the state is breathtaking, but takes real dedication to make the journey. There simply is no easy way to get there! Trinity County may never achieve anywhere near the wine-tourism traffic as Napa or Sonoma, but one wonders if that’s a bad thing. The trip from Napa or Sonoma to greater Trinity County is anywhere from four to six hours by car. If you are up it, you will be rewarded by the stunning scenery and fantastic wines!

Fortunately for the less adventurous among us, we don’t have to travel hours of backroads and switchbacks. One Trinity County winery has its tasting room solidly rooted on the floor of the Sacramento Valley: Merlo Family Estate Vineyards. Located inside The Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg, just minutes from Lodi, Merlo produces some outstanding wines. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Merlo Wine Club.) I recently stopped in to pick up my club order, and tasted through their current releases. These are some amazing wines: a lightly oaked, refined Chardonnay; a light and crisp Syrah Rosé; and some blockbuster, big, bold reds. Their signature red blend, Blackbird (the family name Merlo means Blackbird in Italian) is an addictive 50/50 blend of Syrah and Zinfandel. So addictive, I’ve heard that it’s sometimes lovingly referred to as “Crackbird.”

I spent the better part of an hour chatting with proprietor, Ray Merlo, in between other customers. Ray is an engaging, personable man, who is passionate about his wine, and dedicated to educating people to help enhance their enjoyment. Ray is committed to quality; so much so that he pulled his 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from the market for several years because he felt it just wasn’t ready. For only a few vintages, Ray was able to procure some high quality Napa fruit, which he hand-harvested in the wee hours of the morning, and then rushed to his winery in Trinity County for crush and vinification. Of such high quality were these grapes that they required years of bottle aging before the wine matured enough to really enjoy. He only recently reintroduced it, and from the generous tasted I had, I can say it was well worth the wait. Rich and full bodied, with classic Napa Cabernet aromas and flavors, this 2006 is amazingly smooth. You’d expect to pay $75 to $100 for a Napa Cab of this quality, but retail price is only $59, and club members pay only $48.

Below are my reviews of the current release portfolio. Some are pretty brief; I was enjoying the conversation and didn’t take copious notes…

Merlo ChardonnayMerlo Family Estate Chardonnay 2012

Lightly oaked allowing the fruit to take center stage. Apple and pear with some grapefruit notes. Soft mouthfeel and just a hint of toasted oak on the finish.

4.0 Stars (88-91 points) $20 Retail/$16 Club

Merlo Family Estate Syrah Rosé 2014Merlo Syrah Rose

Light, crisp rose. Medium pink color, with Flavors of strawberry, raspberry, and watermelon. A nice, dry rose for those hot summer days!

4.0 Stars (88-91 points) $18 Retail/$15 Club

Merlo Pinot NoirMerlo Family Estate Pinot Noir 2012

Rich, earthy Pinot Noir, in the classic NorCal style. Purple color with ruby rim. Aromas of ripe plums and spice. Flavors of ripe plum, blueberry, cherry, and earth with a lingering finish of dark fruit and soft earth tones.

4.0 Stars (88-91 points) $27 Retail/$22 Club

Merlo Family Estate Blackbird (NV)Merlo Blackbird

Delicious blend of Syrah and Zinfandel. Smooth tannins reveal flavors of blackberry, blueberry, and spice. Nice, long, spicy finish.

4.5 Stars (92-94 points) $18 Retail/$15 Club

Merlo SyrahMerlo Family Estate Syrah 2012

Deep and brooding, this is a rich, full bodied Syrah. Inky purple, with aromas of blackberry and spice. Flavors of dark berry, ripe blueberry, black pepper, and oak. The wine coats the mouth and lingers with an earthy, spicy finish.

4.5 Stars (92-94 points) $25 Retail/$20 Club

Merlo Family Estate Zinfandel 2011Merlo Zinfandel

Big, bold, juicy, and spicy. This is an “in your face” wine that doesn’t hold back. Ripe, juicy blackberry and black cherry mingle with spicy black pepper. The tannins are big and chewy, balanced with light acidity. The finish hangs around awhile to remind you of just how amazing that last sip was, inviting you to take another sip.

4.5 Stars (92-94 points) $25 Retail/$20 Club

I hope you get the opportunity to try some of these exceptional Trinity County wines, and that you’re inspired to get out and explore some Lesser Known AVAs.