There are 56 Merlot vine stocks registered at U.C. Davis. A most coveted stock in Bordeaux since perhaps before the chateau classification of 1855, Merlot 181 was registered in California in 1998.
Vine stock 181 Merlot traces its roots to Pomerol in Bordeaux, where it is highly valued due to its suitability to the silty soils of the region. Silty clay soils retain water well and stay cool longer in spring, thus delaying bud break, an ideal outcome for Merlot, which can ripen faster than Cabernet Sauvignon.
Thus, choosing our Clay Station Vineyard in Lodi for 181 was a straightforward planting decision. The red soils of this aptly named site are similar to the thick, silty soils of Pomerol - the perfect environment for 181 Merlot to thrive and produce wines with concentrated flavors and supple tannins. Wide daily temperature swings in Lodi create balanced wines—sugar in the day and acids in the night. Moreover, the weather virtually guarantees us a dry harvest, whereas in Bordeaux late rains can waterlog the clay soils and diminish grape quality in wet years, except in elevated plateaus.
Merlot 181 is an expressive varietal strain, with plush flavors of black cherry, plums, black olive and hints of clove and nutmeg. Its tannins tend to be softer than Cabernet Sauvignon, which is why other red varieties are often blended in judiciously to reinforce the finished wine’s structure.