Merry Edwards And Kathleen Inman Offer A Peek Into Terroir-Driven Winemaking
November 18, 2019
by Jill Barth
Kathleen Inman of Inman Family Wines and Merry Edwards of Merry Edwards Winery are two formidable winemakers. Both establish wines of nuance and depth from their pocket of California, Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. This is one of North America’s most prestigious growing regions for Burgundian varieties, Pinot Noir in particular, thanks to diverse soil sites, marine influence of the Pacific Ocean and a little help from the fog.
Edwards and Inman each boast a robust Pinot Noir program, including several fascinating single vineyard releases that show off the complexity of the land they work. Inman calls this style of wine “intellectually interesting,” and Edwards says Pinot Noir is “the most challenging red varietal.” Opening these bottles reveals more for the drinker than good taste—they are a cerebral peek at the ethos of terroir-driven winemaking.
Inman says that Pinot Noir appeals to all of her senses. “I love the look of the small beautiful clusters, the sweet, musky perfume of both the grapes and the resultant wine, the silky texture of the finished product and how well it pairs with so many types of food,” says Inman. “I love that I can grow Pinot for both sparkling rosé and red wine and that each are different but equally alluring.”
Inman also makes a series of direct press still rosés from Pinot Noir, each crafted with single vineyard fruit and made in stainless steel, rather than oak. This is her Endless Crush series, cultivated in her OGV estate vineyard and with grapes sourced from Pratt Vine Hill (Laguna Ridge) and Pratt Sexton Road (Sebastopol Hill).
She says that these bottles are a direct translation of terroir, which can express the essence of the land better than red wines, “where barrel treatments and other production processes can really impact the character of the wine.” Though all are made in the same fashion, each Endless Crush rosé presents a unique color, flavor profile and texture. “The red wines also showed distinctions, but there was a purity of the differences in the three rosés that really seemed to correlate directly with the separate places,” says Inman.
Careful farming, says Edwards, is essential to cultivating Pinot Noir, but that’s one of the things she loves about working with the variety. “The effect of rootstock and clonal selection, paired with location, is like choreographing a complex ballet. Every decision matters,” says Edwards. “[Pinot Noir] is genetically deficient in phenolic material, which makes every farming decision extremely important. In the winery, it tries to shed both color and tannin (important for texture) during the entire winemaking process.”
When asked about the vulnerability of Pinot Noir growing in the Russian River Valley to climate change, Edwards is concerned with what she calls “climate chaos,” not just for this sensitive variety, but for all grapes. Her team has adapted growing techniques to accommodate these conditions. “During the harvest season here on the coast, we have actually experienced more dramatic highs and lows of temperature,” says Edwards. She cites the chimney effect: “The warming of the Central Valley pulls cold air in from the ocean over the Russian River Valley. However, when temperatures drop inland, we can experience a shocking increase in temperature without warning.”
When it comes to making single vineyard wine, Inman says that the Russian River Valley—echoing the sensibilities of Burgundy—has “distinct neighborhoods” that evoke variation in aroma, texture and flavor. “Research and analysis done at UC Davis is showing that each neighborhood has unique chemical signatures,” says Inman. “In other words, the differences between other neighborhoods and the similarities within the same neighborhoods that we were tasting and smelling are backed up by science, so fascinating!”
“Pinot Noir is the only red grape varietal that has a strong, distinctive aroma profile,” says Edwards. “Pinot Noir is more like a white wine varietal in this respect.” She confirms that this personality makes the variety a strong candidate to reflect site (neighborhood) characteristics and clonal heritage. “This means that single-vineyard bottlings can beautifully show off a unique terroir.”
Bottles To Try:
Perfumed, elegant and food-friendly, Pinot Noir is an outstanding addition to festive meals and has renowned virtues at the Thanksgiving table. Here’s a selection from Inman and Edwards to enjoy:
Inman Family Wines 2016 OGV Estate Pinot Noir ($73)
Inman Family Wines 2016 Sexton Road Ranch Pinot Noir ($68)
Inman Family Wines 2016 Pratt Vine Hill Pinot Noir ($68)
Inman Family Wines 2018 Endless Crush Rosé OGV Estate Russian River Valley ($38)
Inman Family Wines 2018 Endless Crush Rosé Pratt Vine Hill Russian River Valley ($38)
Inman Family Wines 2018 Endless Crush Rosé Pratt Sexton Road Russian River Valley ($38)