WA Women in Wine: Meet Mercer’s Jessica Munnell

According to the Seattle Times, Jessica Munnell and her husband Juan Munoz-Orca make the most wine in the state of Washington: in 2016 Munnell was responsible for 60K cases at Mercer while her husband produced 2 million at Columbia Crest where they met  in 2001. Mercer has the capacity to expand to 100k cases.

That’s a lot of Washington wine! That made Jessica Munnell a natural for us to feature for Women’s History Month here on Wine Predator. Well that, and we love her wine! And the commitment to sustainability professed by Mercer too!

Plus isn’t Sharp Sisters a great name for a wine to toast women winemakers during Women’s History Month?

Jessica grew up near Mercer in Richland WA. She earned her BS in horticultural science at Washington State University then continued her studies there to earn her MS with an emphasis in Eonology and Viticulture.  She began her winemaking career in 2003 in South Australia for Bleasdale Vineyards. Back in the US, she trained under legendary winemaker Joy Andersen at Prosser’s Snoqualmie Vineyards. Following a brief stint as an assistant winemaker at Chateau Ste Michelle, Jessica stepped back from those intense duties to raise their children and make wine for the much smaller Wautoma label before taking on the job at Mercer five years ago in 2012.

Clearly this woman winemaker understands the balance between wine and food (which we also wrote about here with the Malbec). These red wine blends can handle bold intense flavors: Strong cheese, big bold flavors, even possibly a lava cake for desert.

While the winery is just over 10 years old, they’ve tripled production under Jessica’s watch and in 2016, Mercer was named Washington Winery of the Year. With this growth, Mercer is still attentive to the land, and it’s not just greenwashing as these awards attest:

2010 Environmental Excellence award by the Association of Washington Business, Mercer Estates
2010 Environmental Stewardship Award by the National Potato Council and EPA, Mercer Canyons
2010 Wildlife Habitat Farmer of the Year Award, Mercer Canyons

“We practice farming with balance. Every decision we make, every day of the year with regards to our agricultural practices incorporates balance. There is always the possibility of adding too much or giving too little when nurturing a plant to produce its highest quality and most abundant fruit. Balancing the care of the plant today with the care of the ecosystem that it thrives in from year to year always weighs heavily on our minds,” says Rob Mercer about balance on their website.

Founded by the Hogues and the Mercers, two local farming families with deep roots in the region, Mercer represents over 40 years of grape growing and winemaking in Washington State from the Horse Heaven Hills, Yakima Valley and Columbia Valley AVAs. They were the first to plant grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills in 1972.

“Knowing the vines like they are our old friends,” says Jessica Munnell on their website, “we are able to identify the areas of each block that will be perfect for our fruit-forward Mercer Canyons wines, our classic Mercer Estates wines, and our distinctive Reserve program. It is a special position that I find myself in – to be able to make wines from such amazing vineyards.”

Mercer offers three levels of wine: Mercer Canyons is a good budget wine, Mercer Estates is in the middle, and the reserves represent the best– and the smallest– lots.

We tasted two blends, one from the mid-range and one high end. Because both of the wines we tasted are dominated by merlot, we paired them with salmon– and we urge you not to be afraid to pair pink fish like ahi tuna and salmon with Washington Merlot as we wrote about in #MerlotMe Again: Washington’s Northstar Merlot with Ahi Tuna. These versatile blends lend themselves to a wide range of foods –from red meat to pink fish. The Sharp Sisters would also be likely to pair well with duck or lamb while the Cavalier craves a ribeye or filet mignon.


Sharp Sisters – Red Blend – Horse Heaven Hills — 2013 – $26

Sharp Sisters is a great price for such a wonderful wine. This wine has a very interesting blend that works: 47% Merlot, 41% Syrah, 10% Cab Sauv, 1% Sangiovese, 1% Petit Verdot.

It is subtle yet exciting, and inviting.

Sharp Sisters has a beautiful bottle with a deep punt, elongated shoulders, and a very sleek design. Lovely rich burgundy color, and on the nose plum and other dark fruits. On the palate, pure cherry, clean and acidic. Not as complex as the reserve, however equally as appealing. Neither of these wines are overly oaked, so that the beauty of the fruit shines through. There is just a faint hint of vanilla on the reserve, but it is not like sucking a piece of oak.

I tried to figure out who the Sharp Sisters are, but couldn’t find more than this: “This wine is fun, forward and meant to be enjoyed among family and friends – just as Carma Sharp Mercer and her sisters would have wanted.”

According to the winemaker, “2013 was one of the hottest years on record. A moderate winter lead into a warm spring and a very hot summer. We saw veraison two weeks earlier than normal, and began harvest a week ahead of schedule. A warm dry September allowed for longer hang time of the grapes which contributed to concentrated flavor development along with ripe tannins. The grapes were individually harvested over several weeks and fermented separately to preserve the individual character of each vineyard. The wine was gently pressed off of the skins before it underwent malolactic fermentation in barrels. The wines were aged for over 20 months in a combination of French and American oak prior to blending.”

This sample was provided for our review consideration.


Reserve – Cavalie – 2012 – 14.7% alcohol – $42

This is a Bordeaux style, red wine blend, and clearly Washington State with a predominance of Merlot: 52% Merlot, 27% Cab Sauv,, 17% Malbec, and 4% Petit Verdot. According to the winemaker, “The powerful Merlot is evident in this blend, which opens with aromas of ripe blueberries wrapped in the warmth of carmel and coffee. The Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot create a frame of structure, while the Malbec adds suppleness, weight and length. This rich wine is full of intriguing complexity built around sleek tannins that lead inot a finish that goes on and on.”

The Cavalie has been bottled in a heavy, classy bottle — an impressive bottle to indicate that what is inside is also impressive. There is a richness to this very complex and wonderfully balanced wine that is a testimony to winemaker’s art and craft  of blending. Rich and dense in color, the nose is likewise with notes of bramble, raspberry, blackberry, dusty rose: it’s a dusty earthen wonder.

Cavalie invites you to go on a walk– or would that be a canter?

On the palate, again complex, so well balanced, with a little cooking herbs like sage and mint as well as baking spices. Clean brisk cherry and raspberry, and plum skin and cloves with cinnamon on the finish.

We loved the spice, plums and cloves on the palate.

Find out why Mercer was named Washington Winery of the Year in 2016!

This sample was provided for our review consideration.

Happy Women’s History Month! Cheers!

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