Mer Soleil Vineyard is unique in that it produces only two Chardonnays, Mer Soleil Chardonnay and Silver Chardonnay. Although both come from the same grapes of Monterey County's Santa Lucia Highlands, winemaker Charlie Wagner ferments the grapes through distinctly different processes to create the two wines. The Mer Soleil Chardonnay is fermented in traditional oak barrels while the Silver is an unoaked Chardonnay, fermented in cement vats and stainless steel tanks.
Mer Soleil Vineyard History
The Wagner family began farming grapes and producing wine in the Napa Valley in 1915. Charlie's dad, Chuck, and his grandparents opened Caymus Vineyards in 1972 and produced a variety of wine types. However, Charlie continued to explore other grape growing regions, and in 1988, he started growing Chardonnay grapes in the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County. One of the reasons he chose the coastal area slopes is that the cool morning and evening fogs combined with the sunny afternoons ripen the grapes faster than the weather that prevails in more inland locations.
Charlie chose the name Mer Soleil to reflect the two elements vital to his superior grape production, as the French word mer means sea, which provides the cool climate, and soleil translates to sun in English. Charlie has been in charge of the vineyard since 2001.
Unique Aroma Source
Mer Soleil Chardonnay and its sister wine, Silver Chardonnay, have unique citrus bouquets. This is due to the 100 acres of lemons Charlie grows in orchards around the perimeter of the grapevines. Since the same soil is used to grow the lemons and grapes, the grapes are infused with a slight lemon aroma.
Making the Chardonnay
This rich, buttery wine is fermented for one year in carefully selected French oak barrels. Based on the particiular vintage, some portions are malolactically fermented, and the aging times are adjusted by lot. Before bottling, the winemaker carefully blends the wine to ensure identifiable layers of flavors and balanced acidity.
2008 Vintage Review
As of 2011, 2008 was the most successful vintage of Mer Soleil Chardonnay. Tasters described it as having a bouquet reminiscent of citrus, matchstick, banana, coconut and pineapple. One reviewer found the aroma full of butterscotch and hazelnut fragrances, and another noted the smell of apple. Reviewers portrayed its taste on the palate as that found in lemon meringue pie, vanilla and coconut and the finish expressed as rich and thick with traces of spicy pear, tropical fruit and apple. They described the color of the wine as bright yellow, close to the hue of golden straw.
2008 Mer Soleil Silver
This Chardonnay uses grapes fermented in cement tanks and stainless steel, and it is never exposed to oak. It has the mineral aspects of traditional Chablis combined with the tropical fruit flavors of classic California Chardonnay. The grapes are harvested at the peak of ripeness when they are gold and green and the wine bottled early in the year, sealed with a twist off cap to guarantee its crisp lemony finish and bright character.
As of 2011, the winery did not offer onsite tours or tastings. However, the Mer Soleil Chardonnay is being poured, tasted and judged, along with many other of the Wagner family wines, at wine events and celebrations across the country.
Many wine shops, liquor stores and supermarkets sell Mer Soleil Chardonnay, as do wine websites and wine retailers. You can also purchase Mer Soleil and Silver Chardonnay, as well as other Wagner family brands including Caymus Vineyards, Belle Glos, meiomi, and Conundrum directly from the vineyard.
If you're seeking a unique oaked or unoaked Chardonnay, give Mer Soleil a try. You may find a new favorite.