Merlot is suddenly uncool -- but the great ones still shine
Thursday, February 24, 2005
San Francisco Chronicle
By W. Blake Gray, Chronicle Staff Writer
In fact, the wine that Miles most treasured in "Sideways," Chateau Cheval Blanc, is a blend of Merlot and another varietal he slams, Cabernet Franc. The filmmakers originally wanted Miles' fetish wine to be Chateau Petrus Pomerol, the world's most sought-after (and most expensive) Merlot.
"Quite a few film scripts cross my desk and I vaguely recall 'Sideways' asking for permission to use Petrus," Christian Moueix, who runs Chateau Petrus, said by fax. "I am afraid that at that time, I found the script unexciting and declined."
Oops. Petrus doesn't need the extra publicity, but Merlot could have used the ironic balance.
Merlot was practically unknown to Americans until the 1970s. Louis M. Martini winery released California's first post-Prohibition bottle labeled Merlot, a proletarian non-vintage, in 1972. In 1982, fewer than 2,500 acres of Merlot were planted statewide, less than now-obscure Rubired and about 1/25th of the acreage of then-leader French Colombard, according to the California Agricultural Statistics Service.
Dan Duckhorn, whose Duckhorn Wine Co. is one of California's best sources of fine Merlots year after year, says when he released his first vintage in 1980, the lack of competition made it easy to market.
"When you walked into a store with it, they wanted it because there wasn't much Merlot available," says Duckhorn, 66.
A raft of stories with headlines like "Merlot: A New California Phenomena" (May 6, 1987, The Chronicle) made it trendy. Wine lovers clamored to try it; growers rushed to plant it.
That's where the problem started -- a problem Pinot Noir will surely face in a few short years.