If you just really like Merlot, there’s no need to whisper across the tasting bar about your favorite, easygoing red wine in Sonoma County, especially at these Merlot-friendly wineries.
Ever since Merlot, once the red-hot new darling of the varietal wine scene, was cinematically disparaged in 2004 — you know, when that joker in the funny movie bad-mouthed Merlot and everybody started drinking Pinot instead — you’d think that it had dropped off the map. Not in Sonoma County, where it’s held its own at around 5,000 acres, and where pioneering producers know how to make the varietal to be its best.
Let’s tour the county’s mostly warmer, Merlot-loving appellations, starting in the south:
For many years, one of the top wines at this mountaintop winery, and which gets regular attention and acclaim from the top critics, has been their unusually labeled Sonoma-Napa Merlot. In fact, the ranch is split between the counties. Seated tastings and tours available.
3000 Summit Trail, Santa Rosa, 707-963-4949
Making a claim as the first to plant Merlot in Sonoma Valley in the 1970s, this iconic, California mission-styled winery hosts a popular, sumptuous wine and food program. The reserve Merlot comes from their certified sustainable Behler vineyard down the road, and even the entry-level Merlot is also partly sourced from Behler and the Wild Oak vineyard adjacent the winery.
100 N Pythian Road, Santa Rosa, 888-675-9463
The winery’s critically acclaimed flagship Cinq Cepages is a Bordeaux-styled blend, so you can bet one of those cepages, or varieties, is Merlot. Nearly unrivaled “wine castle” appeal in a gorgeous setting under the Mayacamas Mountains.
8555 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707-257-5784
Notable for their exclusive Jack London Vineyard Merlot from the famous author’s Sonoma Mountain estate, Kenwood is big on Merlot, offering no fewer than three additional Sonoma County, appellation, and club-only Merlots. A new look and under new ownership, but still quite reasonable prices and old-fashioned tasting room.
9592 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707-282-4228
This winery may have been associated with Chardonnay in the 1980s, and many people love them for their lavender fields, but Matanzas Creek also has a longstanding reputation for Merlot. Nestled below Sonoma Mountain in the path of coastal breezes, Bennett Valley is a cooler location that promotes a “structured” style of Merlot, while the winery’s inclusion in the Jackson Family Wines portfolio affords access to warmer Alexander Valley and Knights Valley Merlot as well.
6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, 707-528-6464
Dry Creek Valley
This rustically picturesque winery, located just outside of Healdsburg at the very southern tip of Dry Creek Valley, has been making estate Merlot since 1976, but they’ve modernized their winemaking facility in recent years. A family-owned and cozy place to say, “Yes, I’d like the Merlot, please!”
1401 Westside Road, Healdsburg, CA 707-431-2121
With its grand lodge appearance and warm, wood-paneled barrel room view, this Dry Creek Valley winery is an inviting spot to linger over elegant Merlot and other Bordeaux varieties made with a no-expense-spared mandate.
4085 W Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-431-9600
Calling theirs a Merlot for Cab lovers, this family-owned Sonoma County classic will take you on a tour of the cool cave in which it ages, no extra charge.
8644 Highway 128, Healdsburg, 707-433-7209
This highly regarded estate near Chalk Hill launched in 2001 with a focus on the Bordeaux varieties.
10309 Chalk Hill Road, Healdsburg, 707-836-7030
Today a mega winery offering a wide selection of on-trend varietals, Clos du Bois was a trendsetter in the 1970s with the introduction of the Marlstone Bordeaux-styled blend. Two Merlots are offered here, and even the reserve Alexander Valley is under $30.
19410 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, 707-857-3100
One Merlot is offered at this historic estate, alongside Bordeaux companions Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and, of course, the king of reds itself, Cabernet Sauvignon.
4960 Red Winery Road, Geyserville, 707-431-4811
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.