California Merlot

Of California table wine shipments, Merlot is the third leading red varietal after Cabernet Sauvignon and Red Blends purchased by Americans today. California Merlot consumption held a 7% share of shipments in U.S. food stores in 2016, according to the Nielsen Company and Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates estimates.

What is the reason for Merlot’s popularity? Industry observers offer possible explanations. Consumers continue to try red wine because of news reports linking moderate drinking to a healthy lifestyle. Also, white and blush drinkers may be expanding their preferences to red. Merlot may be the choice in both instances because of the soft, approachable and luscious character that is appealing to new and regular red wine drinkers. In restaurants, Merlot’s average price is similar to the average price of the widely popular Chardonnay varietal.

The Merlot Grape

Merlot is one of the principal winegrape varieties of the Bordeaux region in France, and was brought to California in the mid-19th century. Historically, vintners have used Merlot as a blending grape to soften a wine, usually with Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot tannins are less forceful than Cabernet Sauvignon, so Merlot wine tends to mature earlier. Merlot is now primarily popular as a varietal wine. Most of the Merlot vines are planted in Lodi/San Joaquin County, followed by Napa Valley, Monterey, and Sonoma counties.

Top California Counties for Merlot Acreage, 2016

County 2016 Total Acres
San Joaquin 7,497
Napa 5,112
Monterey 4,997
Sonoma 4,948
San Luis Obispo 3,942
Sacramento 3,319
Madera 2,784
Merced 1,936
Mendocino 1,412
Yolo 758
Other 4,426
STATE TOTAL 41,131

Source: California Agricultural Statistics Service

California Merlot Grape Crush Tonnage

Year Tons Crushed
2016 268,969
2015 252,889
2014 282,300
2013 346,149
2012 334,916
2011 286,340
2010 310,716
2009 326,356
2008 225,770
2007 304,078
2006 333,501
2005 423,776
2004 292,256
2003 261,085
2002 306,930
2001 273,397
2000 305,151
1999 239,567
1998 201,491
1997 201,707
1996 104,041
1995 73,666
1994 54,200
1993 40,996
1992 37,037
1991 26,493
1990 15,205

Source: California Agricultural Statistics Service