Over the summer I was invited out to Materra Cunat Family Vineyards in Napa Valley. I was really excited about this visit BECAUSE it was about to show a different side of Napa, the Merlot side. Materra stands for “Mother Earth” in latin.
If you did not know, Napa Valley is well known for their Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, but for years, they have also quietly excelled in another varietal: Merlot. For this varietal, it’s definitely had a rough few years, thanks in part, to a well known movie, Sideways, however, what I’m finding, as of late, is that there’s no reason to overlook it, instead, it’s time to explore it!
A recent spokesman from the Napa Valley Vintners even stated, the movie Sideways was probably a good thing for the Merlot Varietal, because, it only left those producers still making it with the passion for this grape varietal, and that passion is showcased in their wine in the valley.
As for myself, I’ve had a love and hate relationship with the varietal myself. In the beginning, I thought I absolutely hated the grape varietal. It was too strong for my palette, but as my palette evolved, and I began to taste Merlots that began to blow my mind, I soon realized, that there’s a lot to offer with Merlot, and when you come across a good Merlot producer, it will show, and you will find yourself loving the varietal as well! I soon realized it wasn’t the grape varietal, but finding the right Merlot Wine for me! And I must say I was incredibly impressed with the quality of Merlots being produced at Materra Cunat Family Vineyards!
Brian Cunat overlooking his Consulting Winemaker, Michael Trujillo
For Brian Cunat, the passion for Merlot is alive and well! And the passion for agriculture, and being a farmer started from a young age. Brian and his wife, Miki, have traveled extensively, touring wineries, walking vineyards and enjoying local cuisines and flavors. Their first visit to the Napa Valley with its natural beauty and welcoming residents, along with the exceptional quality of wines produced from the region gave real inspiration to their family dream.
And from visiting the Bordeaux region of France, he and his wife always tended to veer to the Right Bank while in town, and that’s truly where his love for Merlot began.
So in 2007, when he began to get serious about making his dream of owning a vineyard a reality, he knew he wanted to find a property in Napa Valley that would excel in making good quality Merlot Wines! That’s when he came across the property location in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. He purchased this 50 acre property, and worked with an entire team of vineyard managers and winemakers to transform the property with Merlot, Petite Verdot, Malbec, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. This 2017 Harvest marked their official 10th Vintage!
Brian and his family are very involved in the winemaking process and vineyard management from selecting the grapes to helping to decide the final blends of the wines. His oldest daughter Neena is also involved, residing over daily operations and PR Efforts. His younger daughter has been instrumental in helping with the label designs and collateral materials. And his brother, John, and extended family have been investors and active brand advocates! And they have 2 Consulting Winemakers that help the Cunat Family with the decisions in vineyard management and the winemaking processes: Bruce Regalia and Michael Trujillo.
Before we get to the Merlots, I just want to chime in that if white wine is your thing, they do carry a few varietals including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Viognier. The Sauvignon Blanc is a perfectly crisp, well balanced wine, that showcases the beautiful white stone fruit found throughout the Napa Valley. It is the perfect drinking companion when you’re craving white wine, or want something to enjoy on a nice, warm day. For those that love a nice, Napa Chardonnay, they also have one available.
And now onto the beautiful Merlots. The Materra Cunat Family Vineyards have created Merlots from the grapes that resided on the property prior to them replanting, and also Merlots from their new plantings on the property.
The 2009 Merlot ($40): This was their 3rd Vintage of their Merlot. Upon first smell, you’ll pick up on notes of blueberry, ripe raspberry, and blackberry notes along with the earthiness of lavender and thyme. Upon first taste, those fruits will carry you into a well balanced, very drinkable wine that can easily age in the cellar for 10 years!
2010 Merlot ($42): They say it was one of their BEST vintage years. And as Brian describes it, a “Not Wimpy” wine either. This is definitely a full bodied Merlot, but one that carries on elegance with plum characteristics and baking spices of cocoa. Tannins are more prevalent here, a wine that would pair nicely with a fatty red meat.
2012 Materra Right Bank Merlot: ($50): Paying homage to the very area that inspired Brian to go after his love of Merlot is the 2012 Materra Right Bank Merlot. This classic Merlot, grown with a backbone from their estate property brings up aromas of bright red fruits along with floral notes. The perfect meal wine. As the temperatures cool down, this wine would go with your favorite comfort food stew, or a cheese made from sheep’s milk (which we had that day: the Campo de Montalban: a mix of sheep, cow and goat’s milk). This was their first vintage with the grapes they replanted on their property!
Picture Above is the 2011 Cunat Reserve
The last and final tasting of the day was the 2012 Cunat Reserve Merlot ($110): Their Reserves are limited production wines and are only available to their Club Members (Dean’s List, named after Brian’s father!). Of course, saving the best for last, as this went down smooth and well, showcasing all the things to love about a good, quality Merlot.
It is because of winemaking styles like the above that really solidify why Merlot is such a good wine to drink, and pair with your meals. It is also one of the better food friendly wines out there! But for those of you that just have to have Cabernet Sauvignon while in Napa, the Materra Cunat Family Vineyards have you covered there, as well. BUT, trust me, when I say this, you need to try their Merlots!
Be sure to call ahead to book an appointment. They offer tastings both indoors and outside. Also, be sure to stop by their Cellar, where yes, the Mother Earth Soil is shown below ground! The photo above does not do it justice!
4326 Big Ranch Rd.
Napa, CA 94558
Hours: Open 10am to 4pm. Call for current hours or visit the website.
Private Tastings and Tours available for up to 10 people. Call for Appointment.