I recently had the pleasure of Interviewing Winemaker William Weese of Merriam Vineyards where I was able to learn so much about their winemaking process. Follow along below to see My Interview with Winemaker William Weese of Merriam Vineyards.
As someone who grew up in Sonoma County. Was there a moment that you remember when you knew that you wanted to be a winemaker?
I was a senior in high school and at a dinner on New Years Eve, eating cioppino and having a glass of Dry Creek Zinfandel (don’t tell my mom) and I was loving every second of that glass of wine and the time I was spending with everyone at the table. I remember thinking to myself, this is what life is all about. It was the first time wine had heightened a moment for me and that’s when I decided I wanted to be a winemaker.
What was your first wine job? How did you end up at Merriam Vineyards?
My first wine job was at Mauritson Vineyards. I needed to do a work study for college and decided I wanted to work harvest and see if my career choice was actually what I wanted to do. So I took a semester off of school and Clay Mauritson was nice enough to employee me for the whole semester. Working in the tasting room at the beginning, then in the cellar through bottling, and then working the whole harvest in 2007. Actually my first wine experience and how I ended up at Merriam kind of go hand in hand. Peter was making his wine at Mauritson that first vintage I worked, as he built his winery which opened in 2008. Long story short, the Rockpile Cabernet is how I ended up at Merriam.
As a winemaker you taste (and spit) lots of wine, what wine do you feel bad about spitting because you love it so much?
I love all our wines equally; I wish could drink them all the time. Not consuming is just part of the job, along with keeping a healthy life.
Can you share more about the tasting panel process and how a Merriam Vineyards wine is made every year?
We try and keep all of our blocks separate during fermentation and aging. We might have 4 different blocks of Cabernet from one vineyard but we treat them as their own wine all the way till blending. This gives us more options for finding the right components when building the wines. We go through and taste every barrel and assess them on their own. Grading each barrel with chalk markings so we can better identify which ones were stand outs for us. It’s a challenging task to put all the final blends together because we have top tier blends, single vineyard wines, and appellation wines that all need to be equally addressed and built from the ground up. It takes many days of sitting down and tasting and working percentages of each blend making sure the right amount of new oak helps elevate the wine instead of overpowering the subtle nuances. We keep making small adjustments to blends till all the wines are put together and we are happy with each one. We won’t stop till every wine gets our stamp of approval.
It is quite rare in Sonoma County to create Bordeaux AND Burgundian style wines at one house. What is that like from a winemaking point of view to wear such different winemaking hats during harvest and throughout the year?
It can be challenging but also very rewarding. I feel very fortunate that I have worked with lots of different wines over the years and feel comfortable making both styles. It keeps you on your toes though. From how we treat the vines, barrel selections, fermentation management, aging process, to ordering bottling supplies, there are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of but its all worth it when you get to taste the final lineup of wines.
What was one of the biggest mistakes you have made in your winemaking career?
Saying what my biggest mistake would be my biggest mistake so I’m going to go with they are all learning experiences and what not to do next time!
Who has been the most influential mentor in your career?
Everyone I have worked for, or with, have been influential in getting me where I am now. I am blessed with lots of great friends in the industry that are always willing to help and guide me.
What is your favorite after work drink?
Old Fashion preferably with Lost Republic Bourbon.
What is your favorite local spot in Healdsburg?
Campo Fina, even though it’s closed, its still too soon to choose anything different.
Tell us something that would surprise people about you?
I was a butcher for three years in college and won a colligate smoke sausage competition.