The last Merlot I was crazy about was also a Switchback Ridge; the ’05 vintage. But I was anxious to get my hands on some of this just-released vintage for two reasons. First, the ’07 vintage was almost universally great all over northern California, and the wine was certain to be fabulous. But perhaps more important to me was that I was lucky enough to have been at Bob Foley’s cellar the morning after the October harvest, and had the pleasure of photographing the destemming of this very vintage of Merlot.
There is a lot of sugar here. And that means lots of bees. Bees love the grapes, and are swarming all around the bins during processing. Many of them end up in the wine, but it doesn’t hurt a thing.
I think Bob normally does just about everything around the winery himself, including driving his own forklift. He’s on his game and having fun pushing giant bins of grapes around.
The process is fairly seamless, but Bob has clearly done this once or twice before. Bob picks up each bin with the forklift, and takes it up to about 15 feet in the air on the way over to the destemmer, and dumps it in.
On a day like this, Kelly Peterson shows up to help and to check out the harvest (it is her family’s wine after all), and Greg Gorman and I just happened to be in the neighborhood, so he puts Greg to work raking the stems out of the destemmer.
Bob and Greg examine the stems that come out of the other end. The Healdsburg Machine Co. destemmer doesn’t leave much of anything on the stems, which are recycled back to the farmers as compost.
Every drop of this juice is precious, and is captured and pumped into the fermentation tanks to be held until the actual pressing.
No… we didn’t have to go all morning without breakfast. When we are finished, Bob dishes up some of his just barely fermented ’07 Pinot Blanc. Bob describes his Pinot Blanc as “…a big mouthful of fruit salad.” And a luscious fruit salad it was!
And so, after all that, how does the ’07 merlot taste? Pretty darn good, in my book. But this wine is very, very young. Too young to drink, really. When you first pop the cork and pour some into your glass, you get a ripe and lively nose with deep blueberry pie and vanilla notes. On the palate you have bright (but slightly sour!) red cherries, mixed with blueberries and blackberries, that finish into chocolate. This wine is intense and fragrant, with a good acid balance and plenty of tannin. There is no shortage of oak on this wine either, but it’s still an infant, and it appears things will integrate nicely over time. After all, it is a Foley wine. With just a couple of years of bottle age, this wine will undoubtedly round out into a serious and sophisticated contender.