Three Family-Owned Merlots for Fall #MerlotMe #WinePW

For 10 years, October has been #MerlotMe month! It was started by two Napa Valley wineries, including Duckhorn, and it’s all about shining a big purple spotlight on one of my favorite red wines – Merlot!

Did Merlot take a nose dive after that movie, “Sideways,” came out in 2004, and a key character in it, “We’re not drinking any fucking Merlot?” Yes, it did. Was it the movie’s fault? Who knows because it also could’ve been that a lot of Merlot was going into red blends right about then, which were starting a big upswing, but the point is: Merlot is delicious and it is the perfect wine for kicking off fall!

I received three samples from three family-owned California wineries – two legendary, one a newer, boutique-style winery. With all of the corporate take-overs of family-owned wineries, I like to support brands that were started by families and whose families helped put Merlot on the map. I also like to support brands that practice sustainability, so I’ve included some details on that, too. Let’s check them out.

J. Lohr 2020 Los Osos Merlot ($15) J. Lohr was started 50 years ago by Jerry Lohr. Research on where to grow grapes and make wine led him to Paso Robles on California’s Central Coast. He was a true pioneer back in 1972, and for decades they’ve produced consistently delicious wines. Aromas of black cherry, dried herbs and a hint of spice jump out of the glass and the wine rolls across your palate like satin. Food pairing: I want sausages! Something meaty and with just enough fat for this wine to slice through it like a knife. I think it would also be dreamy with a burger.

Like many of their wines, J. Lohr’s Los Osos Merlot is Certified Sustainable, and they have a pretty awesome infographic on their website showing their big-picture thinking when it comes to sustainability. It’s not only environmental – it’s 360 degrees, encompassing the planet and the people.

Decoy California Merlot 2019 ($25) Decoy is an affordalicious line of wines from Duckhorn, which was founded in 1976 by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn, making it one of the first 40 wineries founded in Napa Valley. The winery is now one of the few publicly held wineries, but the Duckhorns handprints remain on the wine making and grape growing.

Their first vintage of Merlot under the Duckhorn label was 1979. The Decoy label launched in 1985 and is now a free-standing brand with its own winery. This Merlot had me at “hello,” offering luscious cherry and plum clafouti aromas (that’s a French fruity-custardy tart situation that my mom used to make when I was a kid), vanilla shortbread and cassis. It’s an interesting price point, because $25 is a splurge for most everyday wine drinkers – and this wine delivers. It’s shockingly complex for the price – not to mention delicious! (I rather easily sipped through half the bottle while watching Great British Baking last night!)

Food pairing: I want pot roast with this wine! But I also kind of want a pork chop smothered with caramelized onions.

Cuda Ridge 2018 Merlot ($37) This winery is new to me, and I love what I learned about it! It’s a small, boutique-style winery in Livermore Valley, California. It was founded by Larry and Margie Dino in 2007. Their entire production is only 2,100 cases, and the whole idea sprang from Larry Dino’s “hobby” of making wine at home. While studying winemaking, he realized he preferred Old World style wines, so Cuda Ridge specializes in Bordeaux-style blends. They source fruit from premier vineyards in Livermore Valley and use French oak, staying true to their passion for Bordeaux-style wines.

This Merlot is all black cherry and plum, dried thyme and a captivating and subtle mint note. Their use of French oak is restrained, leading to a very well-balanced, elegant wine. Food pairing: boeuf bourguignon, of course!

If you are a red wine lover, October is a great time to revisit Merlot. I think I’ll be revisiting some tonight, with some pasta with Bolognese sauce!

But don’t stop here! “Merlot mania” is happening with the Wine Pairing Weekend group of wine writers. I can’t wait to see which wines others wrote about! We’ll be on Twitter on Saturday morning, Oct. 8 at 10 a.m. CT dishing about Merlot – drop in if you like! Just put #winepw into the search bar and you’ll find us.


  1. Sometimes we find out more than we want in our research. Duckhorn went public in 2021. And I never knew they only farm 10-15% of the grapes they make into wine. I had no idea how big they actually are!


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