Wine of the week: Highway 12, 2019 Merlot, Sonoma County
Michael Sebastiani, winemaker of Highway 12 Vineyards and Winery, said he’s wary of Mother Nature during fire season. So if the grapes are ready, he doesn’t hesitate to pick them.
“We’ve had to cancel picks in the past due to smoke damage,” he said. “We’ve increased some tonnages (produced more wine) in reaction to smoke damage, in order to keep our wines available.”
Sebastiani is behind our wine of the week winner — the Highway 12, 2019 Merlot, Sonoma County, 14.2%, $28. It’s a seamless merlot with aromas and flavors of black raspberry, plum and vanilla. It’s well-integrated, with nice length. As for a house style, the winemaker said, he and his team wanted to create a merlot that can stand on its own.
“Merlot has taken a hit in its popularity over the years,” the winemaker said. “But folks can be presented with a merlot that surpasses their expectations, because it all starts in the vineyard. We know that we want to make this varietal and treat it with as much respect as cabernet.”
The winning merlot came from a vineyard Sebastiani has been grooming grapes in for decades.
“We know the characteristics of each block, to determine which blocks will be used for blending,” he said. “This particular merlot is in a perfect terroir. The merlot shows strong tannin and body and is enhanced by its natural fruit characters.”
Sebastiani, 49, graduated in 1993 with a degree in enology and viticulture from UC Davis.
“I’ve worked with wine for 32 harvests, born and raised in it,” he said. “It’s most important to understand that it’s a team effort, from the growers to the cellar to the tasting room. Everyone staying involved makes a good wine.”
The winemaker began working harvests when he was a teenager, at Sonoma’s Sebastiani Vineyards, his family’s winery that was founded in 1904 and is now owned by the Foley Wine Group.
Highway 12, on its website, is called “friendly owned” instead of family-owned. There’s a story there: Sebastiani and Paul Giusto, longtime friends, pooled their resources and talents in 2004 and cofounded the brand. They named it Highway 12 because, they say, they’re stewards of this west-to-east highway that’s home to so many wineries.
“For anyone who has visited Sonoma’s Wine Country, they will know that Highway 12 is considered California’s ‘wine highway,’ spanning from Sebastopol in the Russian River Valley to the West, then rolling east through Sonoma Valley, Carneros, Napa Valley, California’s Delta region and ending just past Lodi at the San Andreas fault,” their website says.
What’s key to winemaking, Sebastiani said, is to understand what people prefer in a wine.
“The idea is not (to) make the wine for yourself but for everyone to enjoy,” he said. “My business partner (Giusto) and I work hard to understand flavor profiles, what people prefer, and work together to produce wines accordingly. As far as I’m concerned, we’re all winemakers here.”
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at email@example.com or 707-521-5310.
Wine, The Press Democrat
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