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Wine of the week: McManis Family Vineyards 2011 California Merlot

A tasty merlot that won't break the bank.

That's what Mike Robustelli is determined to produce because he's fiercely loyal to the everyday wine drinker.

Robustelli is the winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week winner -- the top-rated McManis Family Vineyards, 2011 California Merlot at $10 a pop.

"We don't really think of it as a budget merlot," Robustelli said. "We have an eye toward delivering high value, and it's the way we design all our programs."

McManis, with its price point between $10 and $12, has been a recession-proof hit for the budget-minded in this lukewarm economy. The winery was producing 4,000 cases in 2001 and that has jumped to 310,000 this year.

"Our merlot is one of the faster growing varietals," Robustelli said. "We've probably seen a 7 to 10 percent growth for last 4 years consecutively. I think a lot of it is recognition we get from local media and national publications. We are often in the lineup of best value wines because our brand shows well in tastings."

Co-vintner Jamie McManis said it was a rough start in the beginning for this family-owned winery, which began bottling right around the time of the World Trade Center tragedy in September 2001.

"No distributors wanted to talk to us because of the tragedy and this went on for a few months," McManis said.

"It took a little bit of time because they didn't want to take on new brands," he said. "It was a difficult time, but we pushed on."

McManis is a fourth-generation farmer and has 26,000 acres in Ripon, 10 miles north of Modesto.

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