Tasting the Terroir of Livermore Valley: Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard

As a wine aficionado, I’ve read and heard much praise for the wines made by Robbie Meyer, winemaker at Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard. But until recently I had never tasted them. A thousand thanks to Snooth for offering me the chance to sample several wines in their line-up.

Note: I received these wines as part of an on-line tasting event. I received no compensation for writing this post, and all opinions expressed are my own.

Right away I was struck by the wide range of vitis vinifera vines represented: everything from typical Bordeaux grapes to aromatic varieties like Muscat and Viognier. I couldn’t wait to taste them and learn more about the unique qualities of Livermore Valley.

Line Up
My first tasting of Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyards!

Years ago, when I was living in Berkeley, my boyfriend and I would head inland to windsurf at Lake Del Valle, which lies in the Livermore Valley. It was a scenic and beautiful place back then, and I wish I’d been more of a wine lover at the time: I’d have suggested a late-afternoon tasting appointment at one of the local establishments!

I’m much older and at least a little wiser now; if I find myself in Livermore Valley again, the sports equipment will stay in the car. And I’ll be on my way to a local winery!

About the Livermore Valley – One of California’s Oldest Wine Regions

Grapes have been grown here since the 1700s, courtesy of Spanish missionaries who planted the first vines. A century later, winemaking visionaries scouted the region for sites uniquely suited to farming high-quality grapes. Robert Livermore launched the first commercial vineyard here in 1840, joined soon afterward by well-known pioneers C.H. Wente, James Concannon, and Charles Wetmore.

As winemaking became a signature industry in Livermore, producers continued to push beyond expectations, becoming the first to bottle varietal Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Petite Sirah. At the Paris Exposition of 1889, Livermore growers were recognized with a gold medal, effectively putting their wines – and the region – on the wine world’s radar.

In fact, until Prohibition shut down much of production, the Valley had more than 50 wineries, all contributing to the body of experiential knowledge that supports all of California’s wine growers today. That legacy supports the new generation of wine pioneers moving to Livermore, hoping to turn their dreams into liquid gold (or red.)

Here’s a short video from Livermore Valley Wine Country:

About Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard

The estate is one of California’s originals, founded by Louis Mel in the 1800s with cuttings from the famous Bordeaux properties Château d’Yquem and Château Margaux. Not a bad start, right? Turns out, Mel was ahead of his time: in 1884 he built a gravity-flow winery, part of which exists to this day. In 1933, the vineyards were bought by Ernest Wente and the estate remains among the family’s holdings.

With its many microclimates and soil types, the estate can accommodate a wide range of grape varieties, all planted in just the right spot. Each variety is vinified separately, with an eye to honoring varietal typicity and a sense of place. The philosophy focuses on limited production wines driven by terroir.

Winemaker Robbie Meyer seeks to draw out the special qualities of each one, showcasing the individual terroirs and inspiring the consumer to picture where the grapes were grown, smelling and tasting how that patch of dirt shows up in the wine.

According to Meyer, blending is the most exciting part of the winemaking process, and he puts each variety where it shines brightest, resulting in a wine of complexity with layers of flavor and texture.

I imagine him as a choir conductor, of sorts, calling upon each wine as a separate voice; creating a chorus in which each voice stands out from the others but, together, they elevate the composition to new heights.

Tasting Notes

SB Glass Bottle Shot
Small Lot Sauvignon Blanc makes a great warm-weather sipper.
Stracchino Pizza with SB
White pizza with stracchino and arugula was the perfect match.

2017 Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard Small Lot Sauvignon Blanc; Livermore Valley (14.2% abv; $35 at the winery)

100% Sauvignon Blanc from vines descended from the original Château d’Yquem cuttings. The vineyard lies atop well-drained gravel soils at elevations between 575 and 715 feet above sea level. Fermentation occurred in neutral French barrels and the wine aged on its lees for four months with minimal bâtonnage.

Color: Medium lemon-gold, fading to pale at the rim.

Nose: Medium+ aromas of gooseberry, grapefruit, white currant, and a whiff of honey.

Palate: High acidity with flavors of lemon lollipop, broiled pink grapefruit, and lime zest. Medium+ body and alcohol, with a long finish that lingers with a waxy-bitter almond taste.

Pairing: We enjoyed this crisp, citrus-infused wine with a white pizza topped with stracchino cheese and arugula. The two got on well together, making a perfect summer meal. While I’m not usually partial to varietal Sauvignon Blanc, this wine was a delight – I’d happily buy a bottle and drink it any day.

Click here to purchase from the winery.

The Whip Front Label
Hedonistic aromas aplenty in The Whip white blend.

2016 Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard The Whip White Wine Blend; Livermore Valley (13.5% abv; $26 at the winery)

This is an intriguing blend of five varieties: Sauvignon Blanc (33%); Sémillon (24%); Chardonnay (21%); Orange Muscat (12%); and Viognier (10%). Yes, it is highly aromatic! Small portions of the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were fermented in small oak barrels; the remainder, as well as the other varieties were fermented individually (separately) in stainless steel tanks. The blended wine aged for 14 months in a combination of barrels and tanks, to enhance the mouthfeel and maintain acidity.

Color: Pale lemon, paler still at the rim.

Nose: Pronounced aromas of lemon, white flowers, white grapes, oranges, and honey. It reminds me of a summer garden in full-bloom.

Palate: Medium+ body with a lovely balance of tart citrus fruit and riper white peach. Acidity is medium+, as is the alcohol. There’s a really nice roundness to this wine that makes it wonderful as an apéritif – which is exactly how I enjoyed it. I can also imagine it alongside a cheese plate or simply grilled seafood. Such a pretty wine!

Click here to purchase from the winery.

Dry Rose and Pizza 2
I loved this dry rosé! Apparently lots of other folks did too; it’s sold out at the winery.

2017 Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard Dry Rosé; Livermore Valley (13.5% abv; $30 at the winery)

I’m in such a rosé mood right now! Actually, it’s taken over my life this summer and shows no sign of abating; I plan to ride that wave as long as it lasts. This wine fit right into my pink sipping program: it’s a blend of Grenache (42%); Counoise (39%); and Mourvèdre (19%). Grapes were hand-picked in the early morning, to retain acidity and aromas, then pressed in whole clusters. Each variety was cold-fermented separately and aged for one month. After blending, the wine was aged in stainless steel for two months before bottling.

Color: Pale cantaloupe with a bit of a coppery shimmer to it. It looks metallic!

Nose: Medium intensity aromas of cherry, strawberry, watermelon and white pepper. There’s a hint of something floral as well.

Palate: All the berry-cherry flavors of the nose, with a distinct sour cherry finish. Medium acidity, alcohol, and body. It feels rich on the palate, a texture that is nicely balanced by the acid.

Pairing: Another pizza (a summertime staple for us) this one topped with spinach and feta. I swear I could have this meal every day. I was sorry to see the last drop of the rosé hit the glass.

2017 vintage is sold out at the winery.

 

Small Lot CS and Whole Ribeye (2)
Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon and Bone-In Ribeye Steak – yes please!

2015 Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon; Livermore Valley (14.2% abv; $58 at the winery)

A typical Bordeaux-style blend, this wine comprises Cabernet Sauvignon (87%); Petit Verdot (11%); and Malbec (2%). All grapes were grown in the Sachau Vineyard and the Louis Mel Vineyard, both with soils that are a perfect mix of gravel and coarse, sandy loam. The finished blend was aged for 18 months in 80% new French oak, and 30% second-use and third-use French oak barrels.

Color: Medium purple, slightly paler pink at the rim.

Nose: Medium+ intensity aromas of black fruit – cherry, black currant, blackberry; spicy mocha notes, and soft vanilla waft from the glass.

Palate: Ripe black fruit, as on the nose, with syrupy cassis and licorice notes on the long finish. As it opens, flavors of bitter chocolate and coffee emerge. Medium+ acidity and tannins; medium+ body and alcohol. This is a powerful wine that is also refined and balanced. It could hang out in the cellar for a few more years and continue to improve – if you’re that patient!

Pairing: We went with a classic dish – grilled, bone-in ribeye steak and a simple salad. The combo was perfect for a quiet Friday night at home, just us. We didn’t have to share with anyone!

Click here to purchase from the winery.

 

The Spur Back Label
Lots going on in The Spur Red Blend. And it was a hit with our eggplant pasta!

2015 Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard The Spur Red Blend; Livermore Valley (14.5% abv; $35 at the winery)

Another “symphony” wine, The Spur calls on Cabernet Sauvignon (48%); Petite Sirah (20%); Merlot (18%); Petit Verdot (8%); and Cabernet Franc (6%). Each variety was individually fermented in stainless steel and pumped over several times a day to extract varietal flavors and build texture and intensity. After blending, the finished wine aged 24 months in French barrels: 50% new, 25% second-use, and 25% third-use.

Color: Deep, velvety purple, all the way to the rim!

Nose: Intense aromas of black currant (there’s the Cabernet Sauvignon!) and ripe black cherry and blackberry. So much is happening here – a whiff of whiskey, hints of chocolate, just a touch of herbaceous currant leaf. Wow!

Palate: Lots of blue, black, and red fruit – more varied than on the nose. Medium+ acidity, medium tannins, with a soft, round mouthfeel. At first sip the oak notes are strong – whiskey, vanilla, and cocoa – but after an hour, all the flavors have found their place in the symphony.

Pairing: This was an interesting one for me. I’d been wanting to cook a recipe I’d found in Food and Wine – a pasta with marinated eggplant, burrata, and hot peppers. I didn’t expect the flavors to work all that well with the wine but boy, was I surprised! Crazy as it sounds, this pairing was a hit; something I’d make again and serve to company. You can find the recipe here.

Eggplant Pasta Plated
I was not a huge eggplant fan, but this dish has converted me. Yum!

Click here to purchase from the winery.

My Take-Aways

After having tasted these five wines, I now understand the fuss about Murrieta’s Well. Each wine was distinctive, with aromas and flavors I expected from the listed varieties, as well as others I hadn’t anticipated. All left me wanting another glass!

And while most of them are medium+ or high on the alcohol by volume, not one felt hot or heavy – the sign of a winemaker with a watchful eye over every step in the wine crafting process. I look forward to continuing my exploration of Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard and to tasting the other wines crafted by Robbie Meyer. If you haven’t tried them yet, I highly recommend that you do: then you’ll see for yourself what all the buzz is about!

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