Call it coincidence; call it synchronicity or even serendipity. Perhaps it was a bit of all three, when, during her last visit with us, Christina Donley mentioned in passing a good friend of hers named Jenna who had worked with her at Ridge Vineyards before moving on to a new position at a winery in Washington. Kim immediately picked up on that and said that she had just received an email from Jenna Hannan, inquiring about the possibility of working with our company, Professional Pours, Inc., to sample and promote the wines of Mercer Estates here in Kroger stores throughout southeastern Michigan. “Yup, that’s her,” The Donley grinned.
Since Jenna was Christina’s buddy, that boded well for our getting on well with her too. What’s more, I had already had the opportunity to try and enjoy a few Mercer wines a few years previously, so this proposed arrangement was looking better and better. Jenna and Kim continued to email back and forth, and when an agreement was reached, Ms. Hannan informed us that she’d be in southeastern Michigan in late August, and that she’d love to get together with the four Professional Pours partners (Kim, Shar Douglas, Ken Hebenstreit and this reporter) to let us taste through a representative selection of their wines. It was decided that the best way to show the wines would be to pair them with small plates in a casual setting at Shar and Ken’s house, which we did on August 24th. My impressions are given below, but first, a little background on Mercer Estates. (Click images to enlarge.)
“The Mercer family farming tradition spans five generations. The Mercers have been actively managing the same property in Washington since 1886, first raising row crops and livestock, and today overseeing 2000 acres of vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. The family involvement in the wine industry began in 1972 when Don and Linda Mercer were the first to plant wine grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills after being encouraged by Washington wine industry icon, Dr. Walter Clore. In 2005, Rob and Brenda Mercer founded Mercer Wine Estates, which includes three tiers of estate wines plus a single label dedicated solely to charity: Mercer Estates, Mercer Estates Reserve, Mercer Canyons and Eagle & Plow. Mercers are known throughout eastern Washington for their stewardship of the land, conservation efforts, patriotism and continued contributions to the community.”
David Forsyth was the original winemaker, followed by Jessica Munnell, who took over in 2012. The Mercer Estates winery and tasting room is located in Prosser, Washington. Their wines are produced from grapes grown throughout the Horse Heaven Hills, Yakima Valley and the greater Columbia Valley. Annual production levels are at about 17,000 cases for the Mercer Canyons line, 10,000 cases for Mercer Estates and 250 cases each for each of their four Reserve wines. Their website is well-designed and well maintained, with a wealth of information, so those interested in delving further into more specific details would do well to navigate throughout.
Here are my notes on the wines we tasted that evening, with some technical information provided by Mercer Estates. In the spirit of full disclosure, had any of the wines been flawed or not to our liking, since our company will be representing them, I might have declined to file this report, for obviously conflicted reasons. Happily, we liked everything we tried on this occasion.
2013 Mercer Estates Columbia Valley Pinot Gris, 13.3% alc., $15 ($12.99 Kroger Price): Pale-medium color, with a flinty minerality that sets a nice tone to the wine’s personality, and rounds out with a rich core of red and green apples and white peach. Medium-medium-to-full bodied, with ample acids and good length. Not quite fat, and very nice with Kim’s arugula salad with fried goat cheese and an orange vinaigrette. Sourced from two vineyard sites. Oddly, Mercer’s website only lists a 2013 Yakima Pinot Gris, but not this one.
Mercer Estates: “The clean juice was inoculated with yeast strains selected for aromatic white wines. The wine was fermented cool over 22 days, allowing optimal aroma and flavor development.” Find this wine
2012 Mercer Estates Columbia Valley Chardonnay, 13.8% alc., $17, ($12.99 Kroger Price): Pale-medium color, with clean, pure Chardonnay character, underscored with a hint of minerality; Jenna commented on “a rind-y kind of quality.” Medium-full-to-full bodied and very nicely balanced; rich and ripe, while avoiding excess of any kind, this is Chardonnay I could drink on a regular basis, and also pairs well with Kim’s arugula salad (pictured to the right, courtesy of Ms. Hannan). Sourced from two vineyard sites.
Mercer Estates: “Approximately 50% was fermented in Burgundian French oak barrels and 50% in stainless steel tanks with chardonnay-specific yeast. Barrel fermentation lasted approximately a month. We inoculated 30% of the wine in barrels for malolactic fermentation. This wine was hand stirred on a weekly basis for over four months to contribute to the creamy, rich mouth-feel. The portion of the blend in stainless steel tanks was not allowed to go through malolactic fermentation, thus retaining its natural acidity and contributing to the mouth-watering finish.” Find this wine
Jenna brought along the following two wines to give us a better idea of the kind of whites that Mercer Estates produces, even though we won’t be demoing them, and both were quite fine.
2013 Mercer Estates Horse Heaven Hills Viognier Culloden Vineyard, 13.6% alc., $15-17: Pale-medium color, and not as fat or overtly floral as so many California models; it also has more acidity than most Cali versions, all pluses in my not-so-humble opinion. It offers nice hints of honeysuckle over pretty white fruit, and will work nicely with a variety of fish and fowl dishes, but the heat from the peppers in the corn sauce with scallops overpowers it just a bit.
Mercer Estates: “…machine harvested in the early morning hours to allow the fruit to arrive at the winery cool. Once at the winery, the juice was gently pressed away from the grape skins. The freshly pressed juice was allowed to cold settle for 48 hours and then clean racked off the solids. Fermentation was initiated with Vin 13 yeast, a hybrid yeast strain specifically selected for Viognier. The juice fermented at cool temperatures for 23 days until the residual sugar dropped to 3 g/L. This wine is 100% fermented in stainless steel with no ML fermentation…” Find this wine
2013 Mercer Estates Yakima Valley Riesling, 70% Spring Creek Vineyard, 30% Brooks Vineyard, 13.3% alc. ., $15-17: A better match for Kim’s saluted scallops in a corn sauce (pictured to the left, courtesy of Jenna), this pale-medium colored delight shows lovely Riesling character with pretty floral overtones. Medium dry, this is fruit sweet, but not really sugary sweet; balanced nicely on a medium bodied frame, with a lingering finish. Although we won’t be sampling this one, I have no doubt that it would be well received if we were.
Mercer Estates: “…harvested in the early hours of the morning to arrive at the winery cool. Once at the winery, the grapes went directly to press where the juice was gently pressed away from the skins. The juice was allowed to settle for two days before racking. The clean juice was inoculated with yeast strains selected for Riesling. The wine was fermented cool over 20-25 days, allowing optimal aroma and flavor development. The fermentations were stopped when the wines were between 1 and 2 g/100 ml RS, creating a harmonious balance of natural sweetness and acidity.” Find this wine
From there, we moved on to the Mercer Canyons line, Mercer’s entry level range. These are the two reds we’ll be sampling.
2011 Mercer Canyons Columbia Valley Red Blend, 81% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Carmenere, 2% Grenache, 1% Malbec, 13.9% alc., $16, ($12.99 Kroger Price): Clean, dark color, with bright, attractive red fruit flavors and aromas graced with a kiss of oak that lends a spicy note. Rich and fairly ripe, with good balance; right there, right now.
Mercer Estates: “Individual vineyard lots of primarily Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot were fermented separately and barrel aged in a combination of French and American oak for 24 months.” Find this wine
2010 Mercer Canyons Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 6% Syrah, 13.9% alc., $16 ($12.99 Kroger Price): The aromatics aren’t quite as exuberant as the Red Blend, but seem to show a similar oak treatment over red and black fruit, with subtle earth underneath. Flavors echo and expand, and like the Red Blend, this is made for current drinking enjoyment. Shows good varietal character.
Mercer Estates: “Blocks were individually harvested over several weeks and fermented separately to preserve the individual character of the vineyards. Soon after pressing, the wine was put in American and French oak barrels to undergo malolactic fermentation to soften the wine. They were then aged in barrels for a minimum of 24 months.” Find this wine
Both Mercer Canyons wine have enough structure to stand up and pair well with a variety of hearty grilled red meats, and are quite enjoyable with Shar’s venison stew over polenta. Now it was time to move up to the estate reds which were paired with grilled rib eye, lamb chops and roasted root vegetables.
2010 Mercer Estates Merlot, 14.5% alc., $28 ($19.99 Kroger Price): 100 % Merlot. Clean, dark color, offering somewhat earthy black currants, with a nice kiss of oak; deeper and darker than the two Mercer Canyon reds, and structured for a good five years or more in the cellar.
Mercer Estates: “Grapes were individually harvested over several weeks and fermented separately to preserve the individual character of the vineyards. The wine was gently pressed off the skins before it underwent malolactic fermentation in barrels. The wines were aged for over 24 months in a combination of French and American oak barrels prior to blending.” Find this wine
2010 Mercer Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Syrah, 4% Merlot, 14.6% alc., $28 ($19.99 Kroger Price): Deep, dark color, with an effusive nose of well integrated black fruit and oak, with more of the same on the palate, and structured for several years in the cellar, as is evidenced by the 2007 version noted below.
Mercer Estates: “Grapes were individually harvested over several weeks and fermented separately to preserve the individual character of the vineyards. The juice was gently pressed off of the skins before it underwent malolactic fermentation in barrels. The wines were aged for 24 months in a combination of French and American oak barrels prior to blending.” Find this wine
I like these two reds. If they were any riper or showed more oak, such might not be the case, but both achieve a very nice balance. Jenna brought along a bottle of the following wine to demonstrate their potential for aging.
2007 Mercer Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 14.5% alc., $28: Clean, dark color; showing some nice secondary action, with leathery nuances developing and insinuating their way into the somewhat earthy, oak kissed, house styled black currant-cassis character. Rich and ripe, but not excessively so; full bodied, well-balanced and still structured for at least 3-5 years of further development, and I’d love to try it again sometime during that window. An excellent example of the aging potential of these estate reds, and a great buy at the price listed.
Mercer Estates: “The blocks were individually harvested over several weeks and fermented. Soon after pressing the wines were put through a malolactic fermentation to soften the wine and aged in American and French Oak barrels for 18 months.” Find this wine
Finally, Jenna presented us with an example of the Mercer Reserve line, and it played well to four big red Rhone fans.
2011 Mercer Estates Ode To Brothers Reserve Horse Heaven Hills, 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre, 14.9% alc., $42: Deep, dark color, flavors and aromas, and quite obviously Rhone varietals; black plums and berries laced with lots of earth and mineral, with a note of dark chocolate that emerges with air. Big and brawny, structured for 10 years of cellaring or more, and, frankly, it needs time at this point. Lots of promise here, and I’d like to try it again in 5 years or so to see where it’s at. Yowza!
Mercer Estates: “At the winery, the handpicked fruit is destemmed and placed into small fermentors where they are punched down 2-3 times per day during fermentation to gently extract color and tannin. After draining and a gentle pressing of the skins, the wine is then racked to barrels where it undergoes malolactic fermentation and 28 months of aging in French and American oak barrels.” Find this wine
This was an utterly delightful evening of fine food, wine and friendship. Kim and I don’t drink a lot of wine from Washington, but we were quite impressed with all of these, as were Ken and Shar. Jenna (pictured to the right) is indeed our kind o’ people; we were like old friends from the get-go, and we can’t thank her enough for giving us a terrific Mercer Estates Wine 101.
Mercer Estates Winery
3100 Lee Road, Prosser, WA 99350
Reporting from Day-twah,