Celebrating Merlot month with a Selby Merlot from sonoma County

Selby Merlot and Olives

Celebrating Merlot month with a Selby Merlot from sonoma County

Selby Winery – 100% owned and operated by Susan Selby.

Susie Selby Winemaker and Owner of Selby Winery
Susie Selby Winemaker and Owner of Selby Winery – Photo Courtesy Selby Winery

Susie founded Selby Winery with her father Dr. David K. Selby in 1994.  Her father was a world-renowned spine surgeon who traveled internationally and spent quite a bit of time in Europe where he fell in love with these old-world wines.

When they started the winery in 1994, Susie was working at another winery where she had worked her way up from cellar rat to assistant winemaker.  Her father lived in Dallas and would fly in to taste through the wines with Susie.

In 1997 Dr. David K. Selby, after a life as a Vietnam war hero, and a marble sculptor in addition to moving along spinal research worldwide passed away unexpectedly.  Susie took the reins, becoming 100% owner, operator, and winemaker.

Her’s is the oldest tasting room in downtown Healdsburg located just off the square. It’s a place you can’t miss if you are walking through Healdsburg, typically bustling and busy with the beautiful Wisteria over the entrance.

2018 Selby Merlot

Selby Winery 2018 Merlot Sonoma County
Selby Winery 2018 Merlot Sonoma County

As part of the #MerlotMe celebration with the #WinePW crew, Susie sent me a #sample of her 2018 Merlot. No other compensation was recieved, and all opinions are my own.

The wine she sent us is labeled Merlot from Sonoma County.  Yes, that’s a pretty large area, and you must remember that in California, varietal labeling (calling it Merlot) just means that 75% of the grapes included must be of that grape.  So let’s dig a little deeper.  This wine is 94% Orsi Vineyard Merlot in Dry Creek Valley and 6% Sweetwater Springs Vineyard Cabernet Franc, from the Russian River Valley. 

Orsi Family Vineyard

So let’s focus on the Merlot.  Orsi Family Vineyard practices sustainable methods, working to increase biodiversity to protect the land for people and wildlife. They use cover crops and grasses to attract native insects. Chickens and sheep may wander the vineyard, doing a little natural pest and weed management. 

They use deficit irrigation here (like in Washington), which gives you more intense flavors a the roots keep digging deeper to find water. 

Here is a geeky bit that I loved from their website

“Sustainable winegrowing practices also address water conservation issues. We use deficit farming irrigation, limited water supply forces the roots to search deeper down into the soil for water. Spending additional energy growing the roots slows down the robustness of the vine growth, resulting in less foliage. Since the chloroplasts in the leaves create the sugar, the sugar levels are decreased, allowing the flavors to keep developing. This results in more intense flavors and colors of the grapes, expressing more of the characteristics of the vineyard, all to producing high-quality wine. We work to maintain beneficial water levels for our vineyards through the use of cover crops and recycled grapes skins, stems, and seeds leftover from pressing (must), which helps provide nutrients and conserve soil moisture.”

From the Orsi Family Vineyards Website

The details:

  • 94% Orsi Vineyard Merlot, Dry Creek Valley; 6% Sweetwater Springs Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Russian River Valley
  • Extended Maceration for 6 weeks. 
  • 30% new French and American oak for 14 months
  • 14.7% abv
  • 1600 cases produced
  • SRP $24.00 (for sale at $21.60 on their site)

Susie suggests this will cellar for up to a decade. The style is meant to be rich, opulent, and velvety.  Susie’s tasting note list dark cherry nutmeg and clove with lingering chocolate on the finish.  That sounds like dessert, right?

As I was searching the site, I found a piece from 2017 that Susie had written for her blog on the site called “Susie’s Journal”.  This piece was called Merlot and Olives. In it she speaks of Merlot and what make it different in flavor from Cabernet Sauvignon. She offers a suggestion to pull out the fruit in a Merlot.

To appreciate the beautiful fruit of the Merlot, eat a green olive and take a sip of the wine. The olive becomes unified with the vegetive qualities in the wine and allows the palate to focus on dark cherry and pomegranate fruit.

Susie Selby from Susie’s Journal, August 29, 2017

This I couldn’t resist, so a put together a small plate of green olives, some of which were stuffed with bleu cheese, a few crackers and some walnuts to do a test! Indeed! This curbed the green notes and pulled the fruit-forward in a delicious way. I also pulled out some dark chocolate and cherry preserve, I mean, her tasting notes sounded so amazing, I wanted to see how the pairing would be. If I had a never-ending supply of dark chocolate, cherry preserves, and this Merlot, I would be a happy woman.

Mind you, I did all this, without Michael. I would need to feed him too, and share some of this bottle. He doesn’t eat olives.

We’d been discussing the range of pairing opportunities with Merlot and I had a Sun Basket meal waiting to be prepared that I figured we would test with this. This dish included albacore tuna steaks, which had me a little worried. This is not as heavy as say, ahi tuna. In the package I could see how light it was, without any of that deep red color that you get from ahi. None the less, this was dinner and I forged on.

This was a dish with lots of different elements and it wasn’t until I had it assembled that I realize that this was a play on a Salade Nicoise! Mixed greens in a sherry vinaigrette topped with green beans, olives, roasted sweet potato slices, dill, soft cooked egg halves, and the albacore which was seared with a crust of crushed cumin and coriander seed.

Seared tuna salad, an updated Salade Nicoise
Seared tuna salad, an updated Salade Nicoise if you will

So how was the pairing? It went very well in multiple ways, the olives, pulling those vegetal notes as well as the green beans, the spices on the tuna really sang with the Merlot and the wine did not overpower the seared albacore. It played very nicely, elevating the food.

I reached out to Susie, who was kind enough to share a couple of photos for this piece. She also filled me in a bit on the vineyards the fruit for this wine came from.

Regarding the Merlot, it is the Orsi Vineyard …  It’s a beautiful hillside vineyard in Dry Creek Valley that is terraced and they are very small producers.  All of their farming is sustainable and that does pertain to the Merlot vineyard.  In regard to the Cabernet Franc, I buy the fruit from Cecil DeLoach in Russian River Valley off of Los Amigos Road and it is very typical of cool climate Cabernet Franc in that is rich and fruit-driven; certainly not vegetal.

Susie Selby, Winemaker/Owner Selby Winery 10/8/20

I look forward to an opportunity to travel again and visit them in Healdsburg, which is really such a lovely town. I look forward to getting back out to the entire area to support the wineries. In the meantime, you can join me in searching out wines from the region in your local shops, or head online and order direct. Susie has a special right now to celebrate Merlot Month! Hop on her site and order a bottle or two! Support a small winery and enjoy some delicious wine.

More on Merlot

Are you craving Merlot? Here is a bit more on this fabulous grape that we have written. 24 writers with the Wine Pairing Weekend group just wrote pieces on this grape and pairings to go with it to celebrate #MerlotMe you can find those at the end of my piece Merlot from Elegant to Badass. Jeff has been hosting this online #MerlotMe celebration for 6 years his invitation piece #MerlotMe 6 with the Wine Pairing Weekend Crew, will give you links to all the pieces written over the past 6 years. So there is plenty of information on Merlot Pairings to enjoy!

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Robin Renken CSW (photo credit RuBen Permel)

Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.

When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.

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Robin Renken
[email protected]
2 Comments
  • advinetures
    Posted at 10:36h, 17 October Reply

    Looking forward to enjoying even more Merlot than usual this month! Loved this insight into a winery we’ve heard of but never tried. You can be rest assured we’ll be seeking it out when we can return to our Happy Place…

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 11:04h, 17 October

      I look forward to getting back to Healdsburg and visiting them. Healdsburg is such a cute town and the Selby tasting room is right off the square.

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