Our long-term relationships with a small group of Napa Valley growers allow us to dictate exacting standards for yield size, pruning, irrigation, and other aspects of winegrowing. In these dozen or so vineyard parcels, some as small as six rows, we monitor development almost grape by grape, waiting to pick until the fruit is at peak ripeness, with fully developed flavors and textures. We pick multiple times over several weeks, even in the smallest parcels, to capture that elusive moment between not quite ready and over-ripe, the moment when each berry reaches optimal concentration and power.
Following gentle destemming, whole-berry fermentation is carried out in dozens of small one-ton bins. We allow fermentation temperatures to briefly climb higher than standard winery practice, which encourages greater extraction of fruit flavors and velvety tannins but requires extremely close monitoring. The cap on each bin must be punched down by hand approximately every four hours, day and night, in order to precisely control temperature and the progress of fermentation.
Fruit from each picking of each vineyard tract and, within each picking, free-run juice and juice extracted with the press are maintained as separate lots throughout fermentation and barrel aging. Each wine lot is paired with a specific new French oak barrel whose qualities we calculate will best contribute to the wine’s flavor and texture.
Following malolactic fermentation, the wine ages in barrel in our humidity and dedicated temperature-controlled caves until it is time to determine which lots belong in the vintage blend. Only those with the most outstanding flavor profile—usually little more than half the total—are selected for the final Merus assemblage.
CAMILLE BENITAH: Winemaker Camille Benitah (seated at right) has been closely linked with Merus almost from the beginning. Born in Bordeaux, France, she studied viticulture and enology there and worked at several small wineries, first in Bordeaux and then in Napa Valley, where she learned the interplay of Cabernet Sauvignon and the valley terroir. She befriended Merus’s founders in 2000, shortly after the legendary first 1998 vintage was bottled, and was one of the first to taste it. In the ensuing years she became intimately familiar with “le garage” and Merus wines’ unique style, but her association with the winery remained informal until she was hired as Merus’s first employee in February 2004. Since then she has been active in all aspects of creating Merus, from supervising the ripening of fruit in the vineyard to punching down one-ton bins throughout the night to helping determine which lots will go into each year’s blend.
PAUL HOBBS: Merus consulting winemaker Paul Hobbs (seated center) is internationally renowned for his Cabernets Sauvignon and his success with hand-crafted, small-production winemaking. His proven ability to create critically acclaimed wines of great power and elegance and his uncompromising insistence on quality make him a perfect fit for Merus.