Merus began as the quintessential “garage wine,” made by Merus founders Erika J. Gottl and Mark Herold in the two-car garage behind their home in the town of Napa. The wine won international renown starting with its first vintage in 1998, but the garage imposed serious limitations. The very hands-on Merus winemaking regimen was cramped by lack of space, wine storage had to be outsourced, and legal restrictions barred visitors or tastings.
When William Foley brought Merus into his Foley Family Wines group at the end of 2007, one of his first goals was to find a Napa Valley winery site worthy of the brand. A few months later he acquired the historic Rossini Ranch, tucked into a canyon on the east side of the valley below Howell Mountain.
The picturesque site was first planted to grapes in the 1880s by Italian-Swiss immigrant Carlo Rossini. When Prohibition went into force in 1920 the Rossini family was driven off the land, and for decades their ranch remained abandoned, one of the valley’s fabled “ghost wineries.” But the landmark stone and wood main building survived, along with a traditional Italian outdoor forno di mattoni (brick oven) and Napa County’s only remaining petrified-wood bridge.
Today the winery has been fully updated, including new equipment for precisely managing temperatures during fermentation and for maintaining the 7,000 square feet of caves at exactly the right humidity and temperature for barrel aging. In addition, the winery has a new tasting salon and a second tasting area in the caves, both stunningly renovated by Merus co-founder Erika Gottl’s Amsterdam-based UXUS design consultancy.