After 23 Years, Healdsburg’s Merriam Vineyards is Ready for Its Close Up

Beyond its wonderful Bordeaux and Burgundian varietals, Merriam Vineyards offers several reasons for Healdsburg visitors to book a wine tasting experience, including: The new design of the 21 acre estate invites unhurried visits within either the Windacre Lounge, a barn-like Tasting Room, and an outdoor garden area anchored by the relaxing sounds of a new water feature. An offering of local gourmet items, from cheese to chocolate, that enhance any tasting. And Yogi, the winery estate pup and official greeter, who is always amenable to a fur stroke or two.

Tucked at the eastern edge of the Russian River Valley, Merriam Vineyards has maintained a relatively low profile for its 23 year existence. Mostly direct to consumer, their wines are a word-of-mouth “find.” But with its recent visitor enhancements, the winery is more than ready for its close up. “We wanted to improve on the overall tasting experience for our guests,” says founder Peter Merriam, who with wife Diana bought their first 12 Sonoma County acres in 2000. “We want to bring visitors closer to our vineyards and production area through self-guided vineyard tours, or through guided tours by our knowledgeable staff.”

Merriam Vineyards is tucked along the eastern edge of the Russian River Valley
A new tasting terrace invites guests to linger

The new design includes a row of antique olive trees with a rich underplanting of ornamental grasses, leading visitors to the various tasting areas. Hedges create green walls defining the outdoor tasting rooms which are canopied with trees. A stone water wall feature mitigates sound from nearby Hwy 101 and encloses one side of the Tasting Terrace. Creating a more enjoyable and immersive winery experience aligns with the Merriam family’s early vision of bringing visitors outside, emphasizing the vineyards, views, and natural habitats that are the focus of the winery’s environmentally progressive efforts. It’s a venue at which to linger, while enjoying the varietals that captured the hearts of the Merriams when they honeymooned in France long ago.

The wines encountered on that trip remain the inspiration for Merriam wines today, made by Sonoma native William Weese: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Merlot, making the Merriams a bit ahead of their time. Not only did they stick with the original estate’s Merlot plantings, weathering the 2004 “Sideways” maligning of the grape, they’ve been successful in growing these warmer region varietals in an area once believed to harbor only cool clime grapes. (Climate change has made way for varietals beyond the region’s beloved Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Merriam produces several versions of these wines as well.)

Merriam offers a selection of Bordeaux and Burgundian varietals

Enjoy a selection of local charcuterie and cheeses with the Elevated Tasting option

From the outset, the Merriam family’s goal was not only that their namesake wines be primarily estate-based, but also that their land be well cared for. A dedication to organic farming led to CCOF certification in 2012 for their Los Amigos vineyard, and in 2023, the winery itself earned certification. The winery introduced 800 Babydoll sheep into the estate vineyards last spring to mow down clover and other cover crop. Too small to damage vines, the sheep improve vineyard soil health by providing natural fertilizer and reducing the need for heavy machinery, which means less soil compaction and improved soil fertility and structure. Merriam also has 25 head of cattle grazing the outlying hills above the vineyard for range management and fire protection.

At Merriam, it’s a family affair. All four of Diana and Peter’s children have worked at the winery at one time or another. Son Evan manages the estate, where visitors can choose from a variety of tastings: the single-vineyard tasting flight highlighting the winery’s flagship Windacre Vineyard Merlot ($35), a single-vineyard tasting and winery tour ($75), or an elevated tasting accompanied by cheeses from local purveyors ($55). Reservations are always recommended, but walk-ins are more than welcome.

Merriam Vineyards estate manager Evan Merriam with Yogi

“I especially love pouring our Merlot for guests and seeing the ah ha moment when they realize—or remember—how elegant and enjoyable the grape can be,” says Evan, a 2017 Boston University grad. “I enjoy learning from our winemaker William about the philosophy behind farming and winemaking and passing that knowledge along to new guests every day at our estate property.”

Merriam Vineyards: 11650 Los Amigos Rd., Healdsburg, CA

Photos by Will Bucquoy, courtesy of Merriam Vineyards

Fran Miller

Fran Endicott Miller is an experienced travel, wine, and general feature writer for a variety of luxury lifestyle publications and websites. Prior to her journalism career she established and managed the Golden State Warriors' first official community relations department and efforts. Principled and genuine, she’s known for thoughtfully eloquent writing. When not traveling, she can be found walking her Northern California neighborhood with her beloved golden retriever Nate.