October 2009

181 Brings Sexy Back to Merlot

By: Rachel Burkons

Whatever you may think about Merlot, its reputation or its source, Delicato Family Vineyards’ 181 Merlot is out to prove there’s nothing sexier than a great American Merlot with sultry French roots

  Berets. Film noir. Brie. Brigitte Bardot. The Statue of Liberty. All of these things are famous for their French roots, yet have worked their way into American lives and culture in such a thorough way as to become, well, American by proxy.

Now joining the illustrious ranks of French transplants in the States is the 181 Merlot clone, which traces its history to Bordeaux’s Pomerol region, where the storied vines have flourished in rich red clay soils for centuries. Today, this clone is enjoying an American Renaissance in Lodi, where the Clay Station Vineyard provides soil so similar to Pomerol’s that people are beginning to take notice.

“Clay Station is a beautiful place, and a very happy place, so many people compare it to Pomerol, and it is rather French” admits Sue Hofmann, winemaker for 181. “But we don’t need to make that comparison any more. California doesn’t need to be compared to France—we do so much on our own!” Obviously not off the mark when it comes to California’s success as a wine powerhouse, Hofmann is out to prove that 181 doesn’t need to be weighed against other California (or even Lodi) Merlots either—because this is one wine that stands out from the pack.

“The Clay Station fruit is just lovely,” explains Hofmann. “It is a really juicy and lush wine that’s got a huge fruit component and a lingering finish that’s very different from the ordinary Lodi Merlot.” Hofmann’s not exaggerating: The 181 bursts with plush tannins and juicy black cherry, stone fruit and currants before lingering on the palate with a long and luxurious finish.

Nestled in the Lodi foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, Clay Station’s distinct soil is a result of eons of runoff from the massive mountains, imbuing the vineyard with a complex minerality that also shines through in the wine.

The vineyards also boast a very deep layer of red soil that retains water well and keeps cool longer, a factor which benefits the wine by working to offset Merlot’s fast-ripening tendencies that can lead to over-ripe fruit. “Clay Station ripens Bordeaux varietals in a way that Napa could only wish for. It’s a winemaker’s dream to have some nice fruit and a vineyard like this to play around with,” says Hofmann.
    The Clay Station Vineyard.

181 Merlot is also certified sustainable under The Lodi Rules, which are designed to lead to substantial improvements in the environmental health of the area’s ecosystem, as well as society at large and overall wine quality. Unlike “do no harm” farming practices that merely dictate which practices should not be used, The Lodi Rules require a wide range of sustainable practices that are certified by Protected Harvest, an environmental non-profit that endorses farmers’ use of stringent environmental farming standards.

In a world where hybrid cars, reusable grocery bags and solar panels are de rigueur, there’s something definitively sexy about environmental responsibility, and if there’s one word to describe 181 from harvest to table, it’s sexy. “For far too long, Merlot has been characterized as a bland, generic wine,” explains Holly Evans, Director of Public Relations for DFV Wines. “People have forgotten how sexy and luscious Merlot can be!”

181 winemaker Sue Hofmann.
 For Hofmann and her team, boosting Merlot’s sex appeal with 181 was all about using slow, sultry techniques to bolster the wine’s lush fruit. “I think our winemaking process is sexy too,” says the winemaker. “We fermented it long and slow to give it a lot of time to develop during fermentation, and handled it rather delicately. It is a juicy Merlot and I wanted to bring forward that sexiness, as well as show people that it is something really drinkable and enjoyable on its own.”

Although it is perfect alone, Hofmann admits that 181 only gets sexier when paired with food, particularly meats. “It’s got such a lush finish that just lingers on your throat, but it is lovely with red meat or steaks—and that’s just sexy.”
Sister Act

181 may be a sexy French clone, but it’s not the only stunner in the family. 181 joins DFV’s 337 Cabernet Sauvignon, which boasts enticing flavors of toffee, black cherry fruit and currant, interlaced with roasted coffee bean and hints of black pepper. Winemaker Sue Hofmann credits the Clay Station vineyards for imbuing both wines with their signature lush richness. “337 and 181 are both Bordeaux varieties that have found fantastic homes in the red clay soils of Clay Station,” she says. “They’re both packed with fruit and spice, but have plenty of structure to keep them from becoming one-dimensional fruit bombs.”




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