While most college students back in the 1970s were savoring the flavors of good, ol’ keg beer, Peter Merriam, a 1973 graduate of Livermore Falls High School, was developing a penchant for fine wines. Soon after graduating from New England College, Merriam says, “My wife and I started collecting wines, first and foremost.” Their honeymoon was spent traveling throughout the French wine regions. Those French wines now inspire the series of wines he crafts, blends and produces at Merriam Vineyards.
The winery is in Healdsburg, Calif., considered the gateway to Sonoma County’s wine country. But Merriam now resides in Boxford, Mass. An avid skier, he often heads back up to Maine to hit the slopes at Sugarloaf and to visit his mom, Pauline Fournier, who still lives in Livermore Falls.
We met up with Merriam at The Vault on Lisbon Street in Lewiston last week, where he brought with him several examples of his small-batch wines for tasting. While sharing his passion for vino, he answered a few questions.
Did you decide to purchase a vineyard or did the perfect vineyard go up on the market and you spontaneously decided to switch gears and start a new business venture? The decision to purchase vineyard land came from a long, thought-out process. Diana and I had it in our sights for many years and kind of waited 'til the children got a little older. . . . We did have an interest in this one vineyard, but thought it to be priced a bit too high. . . . This was the height of the dot-com era, and prices were rising rapidly. We returned to the original vineyard site, and decided to purchase our first vineyard in the spring of 2000 — 12 acres with 20-year-old vines. Our second property was purchased in 2003, where we developed a winery and tasting room, and planted eight acres of sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.”
Oak is a key ingredient in the taste of a good wine. Tell us about your oak. We use mostly French oak in all of our wines, with the exception of our SNED red and one cabernet franc. Each varietal can sometimes have different barrels, depending on the aromas, flavors and tannin levels that you want to achieve varietal to varietal. French barrels seem to draw out what I call earth tones and tannin, while American barrels seem to lend more toward vanilla and spice.
How long is your commute to work — from Merriam Vineyards’ “world headquarters” in Boxford, Mass., to Healdsburg, Calif.? I am at the winery at least once a month, usually for a week at a time, sometimes just three days. I am at the winery at the moment. We have a two-weekend event barrel tasting, and futures, so I’ll be out here for 10 days.
Wine tasting is a huge tourist industry in northern California. If our readers want to take a tour in wine country, how do they find you? We’re located just one hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge. We offer private tours in advance, or you can just drop in for a taste. (For more info, go to www.merriamvineyards.com or call 707- 433-4032.)
The wine business loves to rate wine and give out awards. Tell us about your most notable accolades as of late? We just received 90-plus points on three of our newest releases, Danielle’s Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Jones Cabernet Franc and Windacre Estate Cabernet Franc, as well as several gold medals.
Where can we purchase Merriam wines locally? We mostly distribute our wines here in New England, rather that spreading out our 3,000 cases over several states. Wine shops in the state can get the wines for you, if they don’t have them in stock. We like small, local retailers and chef-owned family restaurants. Bad news is we don’t make a lot of these wines; the good news is that they are always available here in New England. (The Vault is among the local retailers where Merriam wines can be purchased.)