Murrieta’s Well: History and Wine in the Livermore Valley

The best way to learn about a wine region is to visit the region, see the lay of the land, talk to the winemakers and taste the wines. When travel to a region isn’t possible virtual travel along with wine tasting can be an effective way to learn about a winery and by extension the wine region. We recently participated in a virtual tasting which included four wines provided to us as tasting samples. The virtual tasting was hosted by Snooth and we had the opportunity to taste the wines made by winemaker Robbie Meyer at Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard in the Livermore Valley as he told us about his winemaking and answered our questions. It was the next best thing to visiting the winery.


A Bit of History

The winery known today as Murrieta’s Well has a long history in California’s Livermore Valley. The property was originally purchased by French-born  winemaker Louis Mel in 1884. He was attracted to the site by the gravelly soils and planted his vineyards from cuttings that originated from Château Margaux and Château d’Yquem in France. According to one account I read it was through a friendship between Louis Mel’s wife and the owner of Chateau d’Yquem that Charles A. Wetmore, who founded Cresta Blanca Winery in Livermore, was able to obtain cuttings from the château. It was Wetmore who returned from France with cuttings from both châteaux and shared them with his fellow winemakers in the Livermore Valley.

Mel eventually built a gravity-flow winery on the hillside property which is the site of Murrieta’s Well tasting room today. In 1933 Mr. Mel sold the property to friend and fellow winemaker Ernest Wente. The estate remains part of Wente Family Estates and was named Murrieta’s Well in 1990 as a nod to the colorful and controversial early-California figure Joaquin Murrieta.

Current Winemaking

Wine production at Murrieta’s Well is sourced entirely from estate vineyards planted to 21 grape varieties over 500 acres in variable soil types. Particular attention is paid to that soil type, elevation, slope and aspect when choosing grape varieties and rootstock for each vineyard location. And, although all soil types on the estate are well-drained gravel, each of the three soil types is composed of different type rock which affects vine growth. Vineyards are planted at between 560 and 860 feet above sea level over rolling hills.

Winemaker Robbie Meyer is very hands-on in the vineyard. He explained he takes an acre by acre approach to irrigation, pruning and canopy management. Every variety is vinified separately, reflecting the small lot perspective at Murrieta’s Well, then blended and aged to produce wines that reflect each vintage. The varietal composition of the blends varies with each vintage.

While Robbie enjoys blending — particularly with aromatic white varieties and Bordeaux varieties — he does prefer 100% Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Current production is sourced from just the very best blocks across the 500 acres of estate vineyards.

The Wines

MurrietasWellSmallLotChardonnay2014 Murrieta’s Well Small Lot Chardonnaymedium yellow-green in the glass. Sweet, toasty oak aromas are the first to appear followed by a bit of  citrus. Complex flavors include stone fruit, citrus, cedar and toast. The combination of bright acidity
and round feel in the mouth is very pleasing. The finish is very long with lingering caramel and toasty flavors
. 13.9% abv. 11 barrels produced. Cork closure. $44.

The complex flavors along with roundness in the mouth and brilliant acidity in this wine make it a perfect match for rich, buttery or cheesy dishes. Or fatty fish. The winemaker’s notes suggest it will be good through 2020 — and interesting to taste over time as well.

Own-rooted Chardonnay was harvested from the Ernest Wente vineyard on the estate. The Chardonnay was barrel fermented in new and neutral French oak barrels using both indigenous and commercial yeast. Sur lie aging with battonage followed. Robbie uses a variety of French oak coopers for added flavor complexity.

It was Louis Mel that originally brought Chardonnay cuttings from Montpellier and propagated them at the Wente Estate. Amazingly 80% of Chardonnay grown in the U.S. today is derived from these original Wente cuttings. That’s history in your glass.

MurrietasWellTheWhipWhiteBlend2014 Murrieta’s Well The Whip White Blend light-straw color in the glass with delicate white flower aromas. The flavors are a combination of ripe melons and peaches with delicate additions of white flowers, nutmeg and dusty minerality. The flavors last a very long time and the wine finishes clean with nice acidity. 13.5% abv. 260 barrels produced. Screw cap closure. $24.

Give me a glass of this wine on a warm afternoon — food optional. I love the floral characteristics of this wine and I can imagine having a glass of this wine on a rainy December evening would be a vivid reminder of summertime.

This wine blend is what I call an “everybody in the pool” blend which includes Semillion, Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Orange Muscat, Muscat Canelli and Viognier. Every variety is grown on the estate with the idea of producing the best varietal characteristics on its own. With blending the perfect aromatics, mouth feel and acidity results with consistency from vintage-to-vintage. As Robbie put it their blends provide, “a survey of the entire estate.” Fermentation in stainless steel was followed by aging on the lees for 12 months and 30% aging in neutral French oak.

MurrietasWellSmallLotCabSav2013 Murrieta’s Well Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon medium ruby-garnet color in the glass with predominantly earthy aromas. Dark fruit flavors shine through with backnotes of leather and damp earth. Tannins are a bit grippy and drying and last through the finish along with the complex flavors. 14.4% abv. 14 barrels produced. Cork closure. $58.

Robbie described this as a 10-year wine — enjoy it within 10 years for maximum fruit expression. It will be lovely as the weather cools and your food preparation turns to braised meats and stews or grilled rib-eye steak before the weather turns.

75% Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, 5% Petite Sirah, 4% Petit Verdot and 4% Merlot with aging for 20 months in 70% new French oak from a variety of coopers.  The wine was just released in May 2016. Give it some time in the bottle and I bet it will become even more interesting.

MurrietasWellTheSpurRedBlend2013 Murrieta’s Well The Spur Red Blenddark ruby color in the glass with plumy, herbaceous aromas. Ripe blackberry and ripe plum flavors combine with a hint of cedar spice and drying tannins. The finish is medium to long with both flavor and tannins. The balance of fruit, tannins and acidity is beautiful. 14.5% abv. 345 barrels produced. Screw cap closure. $30.

Giddy up! The combination of fruit flavors and spice make this wine very appealing. It is easy to like and would pair beautifully with grilled chicken or pork. Homemade pizza topped with tomatoes, zucchini and pancetta would also be delicious.

The complex fruit flavors in this wine are an expression of the blend which includes Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. The Petite Sirah base in this blend makes it a uniquely California wine according to Robbie. Each variety was vinified separately, then blended before aging for 24 months in new and used French oak barrels.

Murrieta’s Well is located in the center of the Livermore Valley which has the distinction of running in an east-west direction rather than a north-south orientation which is more usual in California. The east-west orientation allows for cool breezes to blow into the valley from the San Francisco Bay creating a relatively cool climate. Average rainfall is 15-20 inches per year, about half of normal for Napa Valley, according to Robbie.

Murrieta’s Well tasting room has recently undergone an eight-month renovation. Improvements include added outdoor tasting and patio areas and a full-service kitchen that will make seasonal food and wine pairings an option for guests. We have yet to visit Murrieta’s Well tasting room, but after reading about the history of the winery, tasting the wines and reading about the renovations I’m ready to pencil in a visit. How about you?

Many thanks to Snooth and Murrieta’s Well for organizing and sponsoring the tasting. A video of the virtual tasting with winemaker Robbie Meyer is available for viewing on the Snooth website. It is filled with details about Robbie’s approach to viticulture and winemaking that you will find very interesting. Thank you, Robbie.


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