I’ll start with the most basic: what the heck does Meritage actually mean? In essence, the 80’s were a wild time in Napa Valley. There was arguing, lawsuits and generally speaking all the worst parts of human nature came out, as newbies to the industry decided to try and carve up parts of the valley for themselves.
In Washington DC, things move slowly. The TTB requires 75% of the grapes for a wine, to be the same grape in order to name that grape on the front label. That really hasn’t changed in generations here in America and it isn’t likely to change, quite frankly, ever.
For some vintners in Napa Valley, that was pretty damn frustrating. People were able to throw Cabernet Sauvignon on labels and they’d garner a crapload of sales.
For those, without that label insignia, they were left to have to market their trade name wine from scratch. As an example, the white wine I made wasn’t 75% of any single grape, so I had to call it Stoney Peak White. If I wanted to sell it to restaurants and wine stores, I’d have to market it. It’d be tougher.
If you’re thinking that they should simply add more Cabernet Sauvignon and basically get with the program so to speak, that’s pretty much how the argument went back then. Of course there is one small issue: there is a small subset of winemakers desperate to make wines the way that they are in Bordeaux, literally as blends, rarely if ever with more than 75% of any single grape. Again, if we’re being honest, putting above 75% of Cabernet Sauvignon in a wine in Bordeaux would be unheard of.
Meritage is a combination of two words, merit and heritage. By 1988 enough of these folks had frankly had enough, to form their own trade group. There aren’t a ton of rules, but generally the wines are suppose to be less than huge production (less than 25k cases) and have to be a combo of about 10 grapes (vintners pick and choose at least 2, with no single wine making more than 90% of the total). The French, as you might expect, have a ton more hard and fast rules.
The next interesting part of this: the Santa Clara Valley. Locally here, we think of the Santa Clara Valley as part of Silicon Valley. When friends who work in tech describe the valley, this is what they’re talking about….unlike me when I talk about the valley.
Much like Orange County in Southern California, Santa Clara Valley has long offered a warmer alternative to their more famous and densely populated neighbors. For a long time, both were known as spots to grow crops. Now, they’re more like the suburbs.
But, unlike Orange County in Southern California, Santa Clara Valley is more Mediterranean in climate. There is a history of grape growing in Silicon Valley that dates back to basically the beginning of European influence in California: at the Spanish Mission.
The wine industry has been here in a huge way, for a long time. In fact, by the late 1800’s there were over a hundred operating wineries in the region.
Like so many others though, Prohibition wasn’t kind to wineries in Santa Clara Valley. Not many wineries made it through Prohibition and today, even with some sort of a comeback happening over the past two decades, there are about 30 wineries operating in the region. As an aside, with the rise of more urban wineries you’ll see that number double before too long. There’s simply too much money in Silicon Valley to not draw in more winemakers.
So what do we have in your glass? Wine Spectator puts it at 91 points, which seems pretty accurate. There’s a nice combination of acidity and enough tannin structure to give some added interest.
In essence, this is where the region “should” be at in terms of style. It’s warm enough to ripen everything and will remind people of a California wine. But, not so hot that we lose interest. Likewise cold enough to keep the acid in many of these Bordeaux grapes, but not so cold that the don’t ripen.
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