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Wine of the Week: Merry Edwards 2018 Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc

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This week’s blind tasting

Sauvignon Blanc

TOP PICK

Merry Edwards

2018 Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc, 14.2% alcohol, $36. ★★★★★

A layered sauvignon blanc with a range of flavors and pitch-perfect balance. Aromas and flavors of grapefruit, mango and lime. Finishes crisp. Exotic.

TASTY ALTERNATIVES

St. Supery 2018 Dollarhide, Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 14.1%, $35. ★★★★½: An extremely well-crafted sauvignon blanc that offers a lightly toasted version. It still manages to be light and lively with tangy fruit. Notes of grapefruit, kiwi and anise.

Longboard Vineyards 2019 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 13.5%, $25. ★★★★½: A tasty sauvignon blanc that’s refreshing with notes of grapefruit, mineral and herbs. Balanced. Top rate.

Decoy 2018 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc, 13.5%, $20. ★★★★: This is a smart sauvignon blanc that’s edgy with sassy fruit. Notes of grapefruit, lemon zest and mineral. Tasty.

Cuvaison 2018 Napa Valley Los Carneros Sauvignon Blanc, 13.8%, $24. ★★★★: What sets this sauvignon blanc apart is its citrusy nature — its quench of lime zest. Notes of melon and mineral are also in the mix. Refreshing.

Some say Wine Country has only one season: harvest.

That’s when winemakers are the most passionate, intoxicated by the aromas of fermenting grapes and the promise of their metamorphosis.

But the exuberance of harvest has a dark side.

“I always have ‘harvest dreams’ a few weeks before the grapes come in, usually with far-fetched things happening in the cellar that I have to find a way to deal with,” said Heidi von der Mehden, winemaker of Sebastopol’s Merry Edwards Winery. “It’s my way of mentally preparing for the unexpected.”

The harvest dreamer is behind our wine of the week winner — the Merry Edwards 2018 Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc at $36. It’s an exotic sauvignon blanc with a range of flavors and pitch perfect balance. It has aromas and flavors of grapefruit, mango and lime, and it finishes crisp.

“The Merry Edwards style is known for being rich, with beautiful floral, stone fruit, citrus and tropical fruit aromas,” von der Mehden said. “We don’t make a grassy style of sauvignon blanc. Merry developed our style because she literally did not like sauvignon blanc. She decided to challenge herself to make a sauvignon blanc that she liked, and that’s how our style was born.”

This month, von der Mehden takes full reign of the winemaking duties with the founder, Merry Edwards, retiring. At the beginning of the 2018 harvest, Edwards announced that von der Mehden would succeed her as winemaker.

“It’s difficult to say goodbye to Merry,” von der Mehden said. “We’ve worked closely together for five years, and I continue to learn so much from her. I’m going to miss how fun it is working together. But, because she’s such a great teacher, the winemaking transition has been very smooth and will continue to be smooth.”

With sauvignon blanc, for instance, the winemaker will follow Edwards’ lead in producing the style she embraces.

“Sauvignon blanc has a natural tendency to have green, grassy flavors,” von der Mehden said. “Our challenge, for our style, is to minimize these flavors. We allow for a great deal of sun exposure in the vineyard, which reduces the grassiness.”

The grapes are pampered on the vine and in the cellar with equal zeal, von der Mehden said.

“In the winery, we put as much care into our sauvignon blanc as we do our pinot noir, testing individual barrels daily during fermentation, and then stirring them twice a week throughout aging.”

Von der Mehden was hired as associate winemaker in 2015 after working at several Sonoma County wineries. Her credits include Kenwood Vineyards, Mauritson Winery and Arrowood Winery.

After growing up in Wine Country, she earned a degree in chemistry from Santa Clara University in 1997. Then she served in the Peace Corps, teaching high school chemistry in Tanzania, Africa. Ultimately, she decided to put her chemistry background to work as a winemaker.

“My first harvest was in 2000 at Kenwood Vineyards,” von der Mehden said. “Mike Lee was the winemaker at the time, and we had an extremely talented, passionate team. I loved the high energy of harvest, and I loved learning so much. That first harvest had me hooked.”

This week’s blind tasting

Sauvignon Blanc

TOP PICK

Merry Edwards

2018 Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc, 14.2% alcohol, $36. ★★★★★

A layered sauvignon blanc with a range of flavors and pitch-perfect balance. Aromas and flavors of grapefruit, mango and lime. Finishes crisp. Exotic.

TASTY ALTERNATIVES

St. Supery 2018 Dollarhide, Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 14.1%, $35. ★★★★½: An extremely well-crafted sauvignon blanc that offers a lightly toasted version. It still manages to be light and lively with tangy fruit. Notes of grapefruit, kiwi and anise.

Longboard Vineyards 2019 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 13.5%, $25. ★★★★½: A tasty sauvignon blanc that’s refreshing with notes of grapefruit, mineral and herbs. Balanced. Top rate.

Decoy 2018 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc, 13.5%, $20. ★★★★: This is a smart sauvignon blanc that’s edgy with sassy fruit. Notes of grapefruit, lemon zest and mineral. Tasty.

Cuvaison 2018 Napa Valley Los Carneros Sauvignon Blanc, 13.8%, $24. ★★★★: What sets this sauvignon blanc apart is its citrusy nature — its quench of lime zest. Notes of melon and mineral are also in the mix. Refreshing.

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