Pomar Junction – Saving the Planet and Drinking Good Wine

Matt Merrill in the Pomar Junction tasting room with OBG mascot Fred. That’s Fred’s good side.

In today’s super-crowded marketplace, wineries are looking for any marketing edge they can find. And since most winery owners are decent human beings, fumbling along trying to survive as best they can and trying to do the right thing, anyway, it sometimes makes sense to slap a “We’re green” label on their product and hope consumers agree and buy their wine instead of the other person’s.

The problem, as Matt Merrill, of Pomar Junction Vineyard and Winery, explained to us recently, is that just saying you’re green doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot. There are no official government standards for certifying a winery or vineyard as using sustainable farming and winery practices, like there are for organic certifications.

“There’s no real third-party certification,” Merrill said, at least on the government side. His father was part of the effort to change that on the private side.

Dana Merrill, who founded the winery after 30 years of managing vineyards, joined with Robert Mondavi, Bob Fetzer and several other growers and winery owners in the late 1980s to form the Central Coast Vineyard Team to develop and support environmentally sound farming practices. By 1996, according the Team’s website, they had developed the Positive Points System, which eventually evolved into Sustainability In Practice certification, a third-party evaluation program that not only looks at the things you’d think: pest management and water conservation, but also animal habitat preservation and the well-being of the workers, many of whom are immigrant migrant workers.

As Matt Merrill explained to us during our tour of the winery and vineyard, sustainable practices aren’t necessarily organic.

Part of the Pomar Junction Vineyard

“We like sustainable better,” Merrill said. “You can use more targeted spraying [for insects]. You’ve got the balance.”

He added that he found that one of the sprays approved for use under organic standards was actually harsher than the one he liked to use against leaf hoppers and lace wings. Not surprising – as Anne often notes, some of the most toxic substances on earth are actually natural and organic, such as snake venom, oleander and nicotine.

That being said, a lot of the practices used in the Pomar Junction are organic and Merrill said that except for the occasional spraying, the vineyard could probably qualify for organic certification, although they won’t do it.

“It’s just too much documentation,” he said.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned about the environment. In fact, when Anne asked why farm sustainably, Merrill was hard-pressed to put it into words, it was such a no-brainer to him.

“Because that’s the way we farm,” he said, initially, then later added, “For us, it’s just taking care of the vineyards. It’s more of a long-term thing.”

Pomar Junction wines are SIP-Certified, which means the vineyard and the winery have undergone an audit by the Central Coast Vineyard Team, which is then blinded, so the reviewers don’t know who they’re reviewing, and reviewed.

You probably wouldn’t be able to taste whether a wine is SIP-Certified or not, but Merrill, who is the general manager of the winery, does hold the attitude that wine is made in the vineyard and the quality of the grapes will determine the quality of the wine, and for him and his father, that means sustainable farming practices. In fact, Dana Merrill is so proud of his vineyards, he even offers winery guests tours of the vineyard in their own special wagon towed by the vineyard tractor. Matt Merrill said you can go out, look at the view and drink wine.

The tour trailer at the vineyard

We loved the wines, by the way. Anne was rather partial to the rosé, but Michael liked the Brooster the best.


Friday Foto – Always Bring Your Corkscrew

Fred and the Corkscrew (click for bigger image)

Seriously – Fred says that it doesn’t hurt to keep a corkscrew in the glove compartment of your car. You never know when there’s going to be that impromptu picnic or when someone else forgot theirs.

Of course, you don’t want any open containers of alcohol in your car and designated drivers are important. Problem is, we can’t let Fred drink – he’s such a mean drunk – or drive. He can’t reach the pedals and see over the dash, and then there’s that problem of no opposable thumbs.

By the way, this is from our recent grape picking trip at Sculpterra Winery in Paso Robles. Sculpterra’s winemaker Paul Frankel makes some amazing red blends, killer pinot noirs, a divine viognier, but perhaps their most unusual wine is their primitivo. The primitivo grape is the forerunner of what became zinfandel here in California. Paul makes it nice and dry, with great acids.

Michael also makes primitivo from Paul’s grapes and it’s wonderful, too (says Anne).

And Fred is… Well, he looks like a dog, but we think he may be part Martian.

Celebrity Wine FAQ – Scandal’s Bellamy Young

Bellamy Young as Mellie Grant, courtesy ABC

Actor Bellamy Young has been a journeyman actor most of her life – you may remember her as Ellen Darling in Dirty, Sexy Money. But she’s nabbed a fun role as the scheming, perfect First Lady Mellie Grant in ABC’s Scandal (airing Thursday nights at 10 p.m.). It’s a fun role, and as Young puts it, Mellie’s one of those characters who’s been trained to serve the people.

Young also had a great question for us.

“I just threw a friend a baby shower,” she said. “And we had extra champagne because we had a lot of pregnant people and driving mommies. We well-stocked everything. Can champagne that has been chilled go back to room temperature and then be chilled again? Or do you have to keep it cold once it’s cold?”

It was a very nice shower, apparently. Alas, however, the bottles were still in Ms. Young’s fridge and she needed to put other things in there.

It is true that sudden and frequent temperature changes are not that good for wine, and if the champagne Ms. Young was talking about was an old vintage champagne, we might suggest some extra care in its handling.

However, this was not the case, and the situation Ms. Young was talking about is one we’ve found ourselves in any number of times. Well, not the shower part, but having cooled down more bubbly than was needed for the party or event. And we’ve put the unopened bottles right back into the nano-cellar at home, then chilled the bottles singly as we got around to drinking them. Bubbly does not tend to last long at the old homestead.

You don’t want to open the bottles then put them away. Open bottles should be kept cold and drunk as soon as possible. But it’s perfectly okay to take unopened bottles of bubbly – or any wine – out of the fridge and put them away in your favorite storage spot, preferably one that’s rather dark and keeps a reasonably even, coolish temperature, like a closet or a pantry. Then you can chill them again, as needed, and enjoy.