Uncorked: Hall of Fame welcomes female winemaker
by Pat Kettles
Special to The Star
Mar 27, 2013 | 2152 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When thinking of California winemakers, most often male winemakers such as Robert Mondavi, Jess Jackson of Kendall Jackson and Miljenko “Mike” Grgich of Grgich Hills, come to mind. But females are now involved in every aspect of this male-dominated industry. Female winemakers hold approximately 10 percent of winemaking jobs in California. Many top brands like Arrowood, Cakebread Cellars, Clos du Val and La Crema employ females as head winemakers. Many of this 10 percent own their own wineries and devote their attention exclusively to their own labels.

Meredith “Merry” Edwards is such a person.

I had the pleasure of dining with Edwards a number of years back and found her to be totally without pretension. The same lack of pretension was exhibited as she accepted her nomination this year into the Vintner’s Hall of Fame. She is only the fourth female and second female winemaker to be included in this prestigious group. Her opening remarks were, “This is a big deal.”

The Vintner’s Hall of Fame was started seven years ago by the Culinary Institute of America’s California Campus near Calistoga. The event recognizes those men and women whose perseverance and hard work have substantially contributed to the growth and worldwide prestige of the California wine industry.

In addition to being an acclaimed producer of award-winning wines, Merry was a pioneer in breaking the gender barrier in California wine country.

Merry earned her master’s degree from University of California Davis in 1973 in food science with an emphasis in enology. She wanted to be a winemaker, but the “Boy’s Club” comprised of UC Davis professors and other males in the industry saw to it that only male graduates got plum positions with wineries. The few women in the program were relegated to working in winery chemistry labs or more menial jobs. Merry refused to take a menial job and held out for a job of substance. In doing so, she was instrumental in causing UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology to revamp their placement practices.

In 1974, she landed a job at Mount Eden Vineyards. She left Mount Eden to pursue clonal research at the University of Beaune in France. Upon return she moved to Sonoma and later became the founding winemaker for Matanzas Creek Winery. She started her own winery, Merry Vintners, in 1984. This endeavor got caught up in the industry’s economic downturn in the 1980s. Lenders called in her loans and Merry had to cease operation. She returned to teaching and wine consultation.

In 1997 she once again launched her own winery, Merry Edwards Winery. This was relatively late in a wine career that spans some 40 years.

She is now referred to by some writers as one of the “wine goddesses” of California. She eschews this title, favoring instead the wording on her business card, “Reine de Pinot,” Queen of Pinot.

Despite her modesty, Merry Edwards is a big deal in the wine world. In 2004 she was named one of the 50 most influential winemakers in the world by Forbes Magazine. In 2009 her 2007 Sauvignon Blanc was ranked ninth in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines. Even though she has reached the pinnacle of her career with the Hall of Fame induction, she has no plans to retire. In her Hall of Fame acceptance speech she muses why would anyone retire from a job they love and an opportunity to learn something new every day.

While Merry’s highly regarded Pinot noir first brought her fame, she also produces a chardonnay. Her sauvignon blancs are hands down the best sauvignon blancs I have had the pleasure of tasting.

Edward’s wines are distributed in Alabama by The Wine Source of Alabama located in Arab. If interested in trying these wines, ask your local wine merchant if they can be special ordered. If this fails, Amazon has a number of Edward’s wines listed from various sources.

Contact Pat Kettles at pkettles@annistonstar.com
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Uncorked: Hall of Fame welcomes female winemaker by Pat Kettles
Special to The Star

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