Merry Edwards, 59, is now in her 33rd harvest. In 1997, she established Meredith Vineyard Estate, producing the first vintage of her own Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley, then planted Meredith Estate vineyard on the Sonoma Coast the following year. She's earned numerous outstanding ratings from Wine Spectator for her Merry Edwards wines ever since. Edwards is currently building a new winery on the grounds of her Coopersmith vineyard, and she just planted her own clone of Pinot Noir at Georganne, her third and newest vineyard in the Russian River Valley. A self-described perfectionist--whose impressive résumé also includes making wines for estates such as Mount Eden and Matanzas Creek, as well as various consulting jobs--Edwards expects to produce about 12,000 cases this year, including a small amount of Sauvignon Blanc. Her wines are made half from estate grapes and half from grapes she purchases from prominent vineyards, such as Klopp Ranch. On Thursday, Sept. 21, Edwards took a break from harvest to chat with Wine Spectator Online.
Wine Spectator: What's a typical day like during harvest?
Merry Edwards: It lasts at least 12 hours. Today began just before 7. I did three samples of different blocks at Meredith Estate, which we're harvesting on Saturday. I went to Klopp Ranch and did more sampling. We're doing a test run there. I'm getting my feet wet, looking at the fruit and making sure that we're not going too early. I'm signing the bank loan this afternoon for the new winery project. I'm also planning for next week, which will be very busy. I'll probably get home around 7:30 tonight.
WS: Describe this year's growing season. How was it different from recent years?
ME: It's been a very cool season. It's not like last year at all. It was cool last year, but we had basically two harvests--we picked and then we stopped for two weeks and then we started up again. This year we didn't even start until Sept. 16, so we're a couple of weeks later than in recent years. But this is a more classic vintage for our area. We've just had so many warm, early vintages that we've forgotten how our weather is really supposed to be here.
WS: How has the weather and long season impacted the different varieties in your area?
ME: It looks like it's going to be a great vintage for Pinot. So far the flavors are wonderful, the color of the juice is good. The clusters of grapes weigh more than normal--they're plumper, they're very tight. This would be a scary vintage for Cabernet or any of the Bordeaux varieties, because when it gets late you get concerned about the weather.
WS: What's different about the way your grapes grow opposed to grapes in, say, Sonoma Valley?
ME: The typical weather pattern here in Russian River is fog until at least 11 in the morning. Then it breaks off, warms up and then the fog starts to come in again around 4 or 5. In Sonoma Valley, you're not getting the ocean or bay influence, except down in Carneros.
WS: What techniques are you using in the winery?
ME: We handpick all of our fruit. Three-quarters of our tanks are punch-downs [by hand]. We have a beautiful sorting table. The grapes have been coming in here at 45 degrees, so the cold soaks are going to be very easy.
WS: Were there any unique hardships this year?
ME: The labor shortage has made things very nerve-racking. We really need this guest-worker program where the federal government would allow workers from other countries to work in our vineyards, then go home. One of the vineyard managers that I work with is short-staffed by 25 percent. That's huge. All of the Pinot comes in over just a few weeks, so you need huge crews to go out and get all of the fruit.
WS: To you, what's the most exciting thing about harvest?
ME: Pulling the trigger. You farm the fruit all year long and then you get down to the point where it's like, "OK, when is the perfect time to pick?" If you jump the gun, you're not going to have your color or your tannins develop. You're not going to make a great Pinot. So it's all about sitting on your hands and waiting for the right time.
WS: What fears wake you up in the middle of the night?
ME: I toss and turn all night. Last night I was up at 1:30 thinking, "OK, should I pick this vineyard? What about that vineyard?" I'm always thinking about the flavor. Can we hold it a few more days? What's the weather going to do? You're always trying to anticipate how the ripening curve is going to develop.
WS: What do you do to help manage the stress?
ME: Bikram Yoga. I try and go once a week during harvest.
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions