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The Exquisitely Beautiful Pinot Noirs of Merry Edwards


Merry Edwards is an avid gardener, and the parallels one can draw between tending a garden and growing a vineyard are not hard to see when it comes to one of the first woman pioneers in American wine.

The evidence is in the wine. For over 40 years, Merry Edwards’ Pinot Noirs have been recognized as some of the greatest of Northern California wine country. There is almost nothing new you can say about them. Accolades for these wines are as commonplace as a rose bush in Burgundy. However, like the scent of a blooming Sunsprite or Secret rose, one always finds something new in the expressive beauty contained in the extensive line of Pinot Noirs that Merry Edwards cultivates from the most distinctive vineyards selected across a 30-mile expanse of the Russian River Valley. The mark of a master winemaker is knowing what to do with such an extensive array of colors in the paintbox, and Ms. Edwards is such a master—a Monet, a Chagall, a Renoir rolled into one. Tasting each new vintage is, in its most natural ebb and flow, a renewal and rebirth of what each vineyard has to say. And we’ve had the most exquisite opportunity to taste a cross-section of the winery’s single-vineyard Pinots, as well as a few appellation blends, from the 2012 vintage through some newly-released 2014s, all of which are reviewed below—and everyone is in agreement that these are some of the greatest back-to-back-to-back vintages the North Coast winegrowing region has ever seen. 

Mind you, the differences between an Olivet Lane Pinot or Meredith Estate Pinot or Flax Vineyard Pinot may be subtle and mainly distinguishable to the experienced palate. But that’s the point. Why settle for a mediocre palate? The differences between the Mozart operas Cosi Fan Tutte or Don Giovanni or The Marriage of Figaro are subtle musically, but once you really dig in, you have opened the door to a world of expression beyond the imagination. In the words of the great jazz trumpeter/composer Wynton Marsalis: great art doesn’t come to you—you have to come to it. One must move towards the exquisitely beautiful Pinot Noirs of Merry Edwards, for they will not come to you. The beauty reveals itself once you commit yourself to peeling back the layers upon layers of mystery in each wine. And then, like traveling through a beautifully tended garden, the senses are entreated to journeys that take you beyond the limitations of earthly ground.

The Coopersmith Vineyard, located at the winery, is the source for a luscious, deeply expressive and enormous Pinot Noir — one of California’s very best.


We did have a brief moment to chat with Merry, who was at the winery, located in Sebastopol, Sonoma, on a Sunday in the middle of harvest. “Are you still having fun?” we ask her. “Oh, yes!” she says with the enthusiasm of someone who might be on her third year of doing this, versus her actual forty-plus. “We’re like a dairy here,” is the comparison she makes to the hustle & bustle of grapes coming in, the fermentation going on, pressing decisions, barreling down, etc.—and the intricate management of the team required—happening at this time at the facility each and every year. “The only thing we don’t do on Sundays is crush. I have to rotate through and give people one day off—except for me.” 

Merry speaks of a particular challenge she’s facing in these unique times of the California drought. “It’s a challenge dealing with all the new diseases,” she states. She points out Pierce’s disease, which is bacterial, carried out by the sharpshooter bug, that leads to blockage of water in the vine and kills it. In a prior harvest this disease caused a loss of 15% of the yield in the Georganne vineyard and 7% of the Flax. “We’ve never had it this bad; it’s not following the normal pattern,” notes Merry. “We’re trying to figure out how to protect the vines . . . It’s farming, and something’s always happening.” she concedes. “It’s probably because winters have been so warm and so dry, which allows the insects to prosper. Pinot is the most susceptible—it’s already difficult to make. It’s all finicky.” 

We were previously informed of Merry’s first penchant for the fermentation process, while at UC Berkeley in the 60s—which is when she brewed her first beer. Considering that she was a self-proclaimed hippie, this can hardly be considered the most radical thing going on in Berkeley in those days. “Ever think about going back to brewing beer?” we ask of the reformed hippie now California wine legend. It turns out she’s a big fan of the famed cult microbrewery, the Russian River Brewing Co., in particular their Pilsner (they’re most well-known for their coveted Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger IPAs). She’s good friends with co-owner/brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo, and she has, in fact, helped in the process of making a beer that is fermented in Merry Edwards Winery’s Sauvignon Blanc barrels. Vinnie is taking it to the next level, where he’ll be using the winery’s distinguished and highly lauded Sauvignon Blanc juice right out of the press and re-fermenting out of the barrels. It all sounds very exciting, but that’s the extent of Merry’s creative involvement in any beer-making endeavors left in her storied career. “I can’t imagine going back to brewing beer, but I’m going to help Vinnie do his thing.” 

An overview of the winery’s harvest season activity, learning about vine disease and talking beer—that’s our time with Merry. Doesn’t get more memorable for us than that. 


Private tasting room at the Merry Edwards Winery.


Owners: Merry Edwards and Ken Coopersmith
Winemaker: Merry Edwards
Location: Sebastopol, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Production Level: 25,000 cases annually


Vintages 2012, 2013 and 2014 carry a unique distinction: all three are from California drought years, where the weather has been unusually warm, winter conditions lacking, and harvests arriving progressively early. The result? Pinot Noirs that are big, full bodied and very expressive. 

To use a broad stroke, here’s how the wines of the past three vintage releases can be characterized: 

  • 2012: more smoky, earthy in flavor; tighter tannins; expressive of terroir; big yields this year 
  • 2013: bright, juicy fruit; big and solidly structured; more ageable in style; even bigger yields than the previous year 
  • 2014: elegant, graceful wines; finesse to the structure; more aromatically forward; approachable sooner than prior vintages 

One thing can be said about this trio of vintages: it’s truly unprecedented to have such spectacular vintages back to back to back. 



Prices: all single-vineyard Pinot Noirs are $57–68; appellation blends are around $45; we recommend purchasing direct from the winery


Profile: Massive, generous fruit, rich, concentrated, deep and dark color 

Quick Facts: Smallest vineyard at 6.5 acres; located in Sebastopol, at the winery; one of two vineyards owned by Merry and husband Ken Coopersmith; vineyard orientation: south/southeast; soil: Sebastopol sandy loam; grape clone: 100% Merry Edwards’ own UC Davis 37 

2013 Vintage Review: This is the Renoir: brush strokes of bold, primary colors towards a composition that is emotionally expressive with a Romantic vision. The marine layer that hangs over the Coopersmith vineyard allows for the grapes to develop to their fullest expression. The nose of the wine alone makes you fall in love—a patch of ripe strawberries, boysenberries and dark cherries, some raspberry, and its unmistakable signature aroma of cocoa. A Pinot that wears richness on its sleeve—an immersive, emotional experience. The winemaker’s art is most readily apparent here. A classic beauty.  97 pts   search 


Profile: Terroir-driven, minerality, aromatically feminine and floral, silky texture, long ageability 

Quick Facts: One of two vineyards owned by Merry and the southernmost (coolest in temp) and closest to the coast of those she works with; her first vineyard purchased in 1998, which she named after herself; vineyard orientation: south/southeast; soil: Goldridge sandy loam; six grape clones: Merry’s UCD 37, a variety of Dijon, and Joseph Swan 

2013 Vintage Review:  A wine that speaks eloquently of its place and the personality of its winemaker. There is no separation between the vineyard and the person who manages the vines—the Pinot is an equal expression of both life forces. On the nose is a powerful perfume of rose, violets and red, black and blue fruits—the aromatics are unbelievable. On the palate, it’s all about finesse, expression of fruit and elegance. A wine of tremendous integrity and exquisite balance and harmony. Truly special.  96 pts   search

2012 Vintage Review:  Pinot Noir that commands a presence, shining its bright personality through its complex, dusty and rustic character. There’s a great spine of feminine strength that holds this wine together throughout its expressive fruit notes of blueberry, wild strawberry and black currant, with added complexities of black tea and soft spice notes. A singular wine, wearing its uniqueness and complexity on its sleeve.  94 pts   search


Profile: Lightest body; opaque color; bright red fruit; gentle aromatics; finesse 

Quick Facts: One of the oldest vineyards in the Russian River Valley, vines first planted in 1973—owned by the Pellegrini family; Merry has worked with this vineyard since her first vintage in 1979; located on the Santa Rosa plains, with varied orientation throughout its undulating terrain; soil: gravelly clay loam; grape clone: Martini selection 

2014 Vintage Review: Truly a wine of finesse. As it undulates silkily and gently on the palate, its telltale flavor of bright red cherry enlivens the senses. Everything about this Pinot is gentle—the acidity, the earthiness, the tannins. And through this soft spoken feminine grace is an expression of understated strength and complexity, as added notes of baking spice, white pepper and dark oak come to the fore. There’s always something to discover. A truly alluring Pinot Noir that only gets sexier with age.  93 pts   search

2012 Vintage Review: Opaque garnet in color and light in body, if looks alone could tell you of the personality beneath the surface, then, perhaps, when it comes to this Pinot, beauty is in the eye of every beholder. The nose is a flower garden blooming in spring—violets, roses and lilacs. This striking opulence carries through in richness of flavor on the palate—ripe strawberry, boysenberry and plum. A lengthy wine, it’s silky texture won’t let go, gaining power and weight at the end with surprisingly fine tannins.  92 pts   search


Profile: Darkest in color; greatest in weight, full bodied; heaviest in oak; ripest in fruit flavor 

Quick Facts: Northernmost vineyard, just 3 miles from Dry Creek region; 8-12 degree Fahrenheit difference in temp from the coolest, southernmost Meredith Vineyard; younger vineyard—planted in 2006; varied orientation across rolling hilltops; soil: Arbuckle gravelly sandy loam; grape clone: 100% Merry Edwards (UCD 37) 

2013 Vintage Review: Ever since she started her winery, Merry Edwards has preferred her Pinots on the bigger side; across the board they are around 14% alcohol level. The Georganne is the biggest, jammiest and most opulent, with deep, dark fruit flavors, luscious texture and great density. A master winemaker, however, knows that this kind of largesse needs other elements to provide a counterpoint in order to create balance, complexity and completeness. That’s where the expression of soil and terroir come in, that earthy French style—giving this wine a brooding quality. This is Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire. Intensity, passion, and a hint of brutality simmering beneath the surface. “Stella!” . . . no wait, “Georganne!”  95 pts   search


Profile: Masculine, intense, approachable and early-drinking, classic Russian River style and structure 

Quick Facts: Located in the “heart and belly” of the Russian River Valley; Merry has worked with owner Ted Klopp ever since the first planting in 1989; large acreage at 26 acres; big diurnal (occurring within the same day) shift in temp of 30-50 degrees; orientation: south/southeast; soil: Goldridge sandy loam; grape clones: Pommard, Dijon variety, Joseph Swan selection 

2013 Vintage Review: Those looking for a classic expression of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir should look to the Klopp Ranch. The grapes on the vine from this vineyard have ideal conditions for producing quintessential Pinot from the region—sunshine and warmth in the daytime for fruit ripening and sugar levels and a big drop in temperature at night to retain acidity. At the hands of a winemaker as involved in the farming process as Merry Edwards, the result is a rich, voluptuous, structured and flavorful wine of black fruit (blackberry, cassis, boysenberry, plum) along with intriguing notes of cola, cocoa, and pepper delivered with velvety and powerful tannins. Welcome to California.  93 pts   search

2012 Vintage Review: The earthier qualities of the vintage play out fully in the Klopp Ranch, creating a more rustic counterpoint to the 2013 bottling. This is perhaps a more rough, dirty and ready to rumble form of masculinity in Pinot Noir, with interesting notes of black tea and red licorice in the mix. There is a soft side to this bad boy, however, as the Dijon clone in the wine’s DNA provides femininity of rose and violets. Round and lush, with a chip on its shoulder. A fascinating character, indeed.  93 pts   search


Profile: Rocky soil wine character and earthy complexity; pronounced tannins; higher acidity; cerebral; needs the most time in bottle to develop 

Quick Facts: Located in the “Middle Reach” of the Russian River Valley; one of the earliest harvests because the grapes ripen faster; sloping terroir sits above the river and is full of pebbles and river rocks, with lots of sulphur deposits; orientation: east; grape clone: 100% Pommard 

2013 Vintage Review:  Still very young yet, so this is quite reticent as compared to the flamboyant 2012. Give it plenty of time to settle, perhaps 8-10 years like a Cru Burgundy, but the Pinot is already a marvel of terroir-driven expression—truly a product of its environment. You can taste the ancient soil influence, from the chalkiness evident in texture and its minerality derived from the stones in the soil of the vineyard. At once tart and tannic, delicate and complex, the wine has an air of mystery, an ethereal quality.  94 pts    search

2012 Vintage Review:  The wine of the vintage. The aromatics burst onto the scene with the flair of an Old Globe Shakespearean actor—Bing cherries, blackberries, blueberries, sweet strawberries and wildflowers. This is also a Pinot with substantial heft, the rich fruit flavor delivered in a grand style. There are layers upon layers of terroir-driven complexity to be uncovered here; however, with repeated sips from the glass one is left most impressed with the wine’s gracefulness and finesse. A gorgeous wine whose drinkability is outrageously good.  96 pts   search




A blend comprised of Pinot Noir from the six vineyards reviewed above, this is intended to be a showcase of the Russian River Valley appellation. Not only does the wine showcase the sophistication and robust character of Pinot from this Sonoma region, it also displays in no uncertain terms the artistry of Merry Edwards the winemaker. As someone who spends 80% of her time in the vineyards, Merry is the ultimate believer in the philosophy of winemaking happening in the vineyard. How she farms the vineyards translates into the bottle—amply demonstrated when compared to other base Russian River Valley Pinots on the market. Approachable and friendly, with tons of elegance and sophistication captured in the bottle.  91-92 pts   search


An outlier blend, and a look into what the artist can do with sourced fruit from the prestigious Sonoma Coast region. Medium bodied, dark-toned, juicy, lush and savory, the wine’s texture feels so easygoing on the palate. Adding another dimension, the fresh notes of ripe strawberries and raspberries bring liveliness to the occasion. Beneath this surface of pleasantry is a strong spine to remind you there is power of personality driving all of this forward. There are many a winery who overprice their Pinot Noir blend from this appellation; the Merry Edwards finds the balance between prestige, value and quality.  91 pts   search 

October 23, 2016