Today we turn our attention to women in wine in the US starting with winemaker Merry Edwards who began her career in wine in 1974 making her one of California’s first women winemakers.
With her focus on pinot noir, no wonder she was honored this month at World Of Pinot Noir held at Bacarra in Santa Barbara CA. However, not only is she a leader in the world pf Pinot Noir but a pioneer in wine.
Like many women that I’ve interviewed over the years, an important gateway to wine for Merry Edwards was through food: as a teenager, she learned to cook with wine, and soon she was brewing beer and fermenting wine with her label “Merry Vintners”!
In 1971, as a graduate student in nutrition at UC Berkeley, Merry discovered she could get her MS in Enology, and, bit with the winemaking bug, she moved to UC Davis to pursue her studies. By late 1973, she had her master’s degree in Food Science with an emphasis in Enology; her thesis on lead capsules changed industry practices. As one of three women who graduated that year, only Merry established herself in the field as a winemaker.
It wasn’t easy. Women weren’t accepted as winemakers in the 1970s; today only 10% of the winemakers in the world are women. Back then, women were expected to be happy in the lab as technicians. Merry was not merry or happy with this choice and she persevered in pursuing her dream.
Just as her MA research changed the industry, because of her persistence, Merry became winemaker at Mount Eden in 1974, and in 2013, she was inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame, and became the fourth woman to win the James Beard Award for Best Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional in the United States.
Long fascinated by the Russian River Valley, in 1997, Merry Edwards focused on Pinot Noir there with her eponymous brand. Ten years later, she and husband Ken Coppersmith finished their winery and established their estate vineyards: Coopersmith, Flax, Georganne, and Meredith. The brand also includes two regional Pinot blends and six vineyard-designates.
Today Merry Edwards is considered by many as one of the most important women wine makers in California because her ability to translate a sense of place or terroir into a bottle of wine is hard to beat.
At WOPN, I had the opportunity to taste these four different vineyards from the 2014 vintage — along with a plate of charcuterie from ‘Fromagerie Sophie.’ Of the four, my favorite was Flax: I loved the assemblage of complex fruit, floral, and earth notes. The Meredith vineyard was the wine that had the most “dirt” and was the least accessible of the four wines; out of the four, this is the one I’d most like to revisit in 2, 4, 6, 8 10, 12 years…I bet this wine would still be awesome in 20 years.
My second favorite was Coppersmith, which has more husky, with richer flavors and texture as compared to the more delicate and complex notes of the Flax. However the Coopersmith wine is no second best. This wine is exceptional, memorable, lovely.
In color, the Coopersmith looks unfined and unfiltered, with a density of color that has some coral to it, kind of bark. While it is not super pretty in the glass, the nose is entrancing with a lot of depth, forest floor, and cocoa, with ginger, violets, and eucalyptus, and not a lot of fruit showing. On the palate, the Coppersmith offers an engaging mouthfeel with rich lush cherry, dark fruits, earth and complex spices with a long finish while the Flax shone with a perfect balance of cherry fruit, funk, and minerality rather than “dirt.” All four estate wines retail in the $60-70 range.
Fun facts about Coppersmith Vineyard:
- Located on Laguna Ridge near Sebastopol
- Purchased in 1999
- Originally planted in apples
- Planted in 100% UCD 37 (Merry’s clone)
- Neighboring Gourmet Mushrooms provides organic oak-based mushroom compost,
- A pair of peregrine falcons nest nearby
True to her culinary background, Merry Edwards features an extensive list and links of menus with wine pairing ideas. Check out these ideas for the Coppersmith Pinot Noir. I sent Sue the recipe for the cassoulet!
In the mood for Pinot Noir? While you missed out on this year’s World of Pinot Noir, today taste Pinot Noir from New Zealand at the Essentials Festival in DTLA or next week head to the Garagiste Festival in Solvang in the heart of Santa Barbara’s pinot noir country!