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East of Amigos

Come for the Merlot, stay for the lobster feed at Merriam Vineyards



Midway into a tour of Merriam Vineyards, I'm shown the spacious tasting room, which is appointed like an upscale country boutique.

I learn that the estate vineyard was bound for organic certification from the very start in 2003. And proprietor Peter Merriam tells me how he came to love the great wines of France, because that's what they put on the shelves on the East Coast, where he's in business. But I'm looking around, wondering: where's the paint-by-numbers, Tuscan-style villa?

This winery is actually "New England–styled," and it turns out that Merriam never actually moved to wine country, although he's been visiting Healdsburg since 1982, when his school buddy Tom Simoneau (for years, "the Wine Guy" on KSRO) trekked out here. After harvest, however, Merriam heads back to New England, like a snowbird in reverse. "I'm an East Coast kind of guy," Merriam says with a shrug. A self-described outdoors enthusiast, the native Mainer sticks to where there's a reliable snowpack.

That East Coast business? That's actually the winery itself, which Merriam runs from the Boston area, visiting Sonoma County nearly once a month. Formerly, he ran a "package store," which is what they call off-sale wine and liquor shops back there, while his wife, Diana, was on the board of a large, family-run New England supermarket chain.

Enough of the story, how is the wine? Well, a sign that boasts "94+ points Robert Parker" for the 2010 Rockpile Cabernet hangs on a wall in the cellar, so that's something. I'll advocate at least as many points for the 2013 Bacigalupi Chardonnay ($50), an excellent rendition from this treasured vineyard that splits the cream from the apple, with not too much butter in between.

While the 2013 Estate Pinot Noir ($40) is warm and jammy, look for the cool 2015 rosé next year, with chalky acidity and light, strawberry and rose aromas. Instead of straight-up, toasty oak, the 2014 Fumé Blanc ($28) smells like toasted almonds and none of the grassiness of the fruity 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ($20).

Slightly charred, but not too much, the 2011 Estate Merlot ($30) displays all the graphite and dark, red berry fruit that you might want in a Merlot. With less than I expect from a Cab Franc—in the sense of less is more—the accessible 2010 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Franc ($45) wows with perfumed red berry fruit and notes of sweet blonde tobacco.

Merriam Vineyards, 11654 Los Amigos Road, Healdsburg. Daily, 10am–5pm. Tasting fee, $10. Dog-friendly. 707.433.4032.

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