One of the first women to become a California winemaker, Sonoma County Farm Bureau Member Merry Edwards, began her career in 1973 after she earned a BS degree in Physiology from UC Berkeley and a MA degree in Food Science with an emphasis in Enology from UC Davis.
She has earned titles like Winemaker of the Year, One of America’s Top Fifty Most Influential Winemakers and one of The 50 Most Influential Winemakers in the World. Merry and her wines are world renowned. However, Edwards said that when she began her path to becoming a winemaker, when she looked to her left and right, she didn’t see very many women.
“When I entered the master’s program at UC Davis, there were no women professors and there were only two other women who entered the program with me,” Edwards said. “They both completed their master’s but neither one of them went on into winemaking. Calling it a narrow field would have been an understatement.”
When Edwards was looking to kickstart her career she said she encountered barriers that kept her from pursuing her goals.
“A company came in from New Zealand to hire students from our department and I went to the chairman of the department to sign up for an interview,” Edwards said. “He refused to let me sign up because the company wouldn’t hire a woman.”
She said the job interview process was challenging because many recruiters thought that because she was a woman, she couldn’t handle the physical demands of winemaking.
“I grew up gardening, had my own horse, I was a back-packing guide in college and was totally capable,” Edwards said.
While seeking her first winemaking position, Merry encountered gender discrimination time and again. Many people confronted with such barriers would have given up or chosen a different path. However, Edwards persevered. She pursued a career as a winemaker, rejecting positions as a laboratory technician, the traditional role of women in the wine industry at that time. Her dedication earned her both personal and professional success and helped to blaze the trail for other women winemakers to follow in her footsteps.
She said she chose to pursue a career in winemaking because she had a big chemistry background and was curious to learn about how wine worked.
“I was curiosity and exploration driven because I didn’t have a family that was involved with wine,” Edwards said. “I actually started off as a home winemaker when I was an undergrad at UC Berkeley.”
What began with curiosity and exploration quickly grew into a deep passion.
“I was so intrigued by everything and was continually learning about viticulture and winemaking,” Edwards said. “Despite the challenges I faced, I think it was passion and my hard work ethic that led me on.”
She embarked on her career as a winemaker at Mount Eden Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1974.
“My first job was in a very remote location,” Edwards explained. “When inspectors would come, they often asked me, “What’s a young girl like you doing in a place like this?””
She said that during her time as a winemaker in Mount Eden, she would visit a club in San Francisco to taste wine because there weren’t very many opportunities to enrich herself where she was living.
“In blind tastings I started noticing, no matter the varietal, that there was a signature on the Sonoma County wines that made them stand out to me because they were very fruit-forward and rich bodied,” Edwards said. “To me, aroma is a big part of wine. You can tell a lot about a wine without even having it touch your lips.”
Drawn by the distinctive grapes grown there and good friends living in the area, Edwards began making trips to Sonoma County in the mid-1970s. She eventually relocated to Sonoma County and became the founding winemaker at Matanzas Creek in 1977, remaining there until 1984. For the next decade, Merry consulted for numerous wineries, large and small, in Oregon and many diverse appellations of California. By 1996 she had purchased the 24-acre future site of Meredith Estate vineyard and in 1997 she co-founded Meredith Vineyard Estate and produced the first vintage of Merry Edwards Pinot Noir.
Edwards said that Sonoma County and specifically, Russian River, is the epicenter for pinot noir in the world.
“I truly believe that there is no better place to make pinot than right here,” Edwards said.
Although she has traveled all over the country and the world, Edwards said that there are few places that are as beautiful as Sonoma County.
“Our county is incredible,” Edwards said. “We are progressive here and are doing great things in terms of sustainability. I think we are on the cutting edge.”
In 2013, Merry’s 40th year as a winemaker, she was not only inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame, she also won the coveted James Beard Award for Best Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional in the United States, making her one of just three women to win both honors, along with Zelma Long and Jamie Davies.
Now in the fifth decade of her winemaking career, Merry has earned the universal respect of winemaking peers, grape growers and academicians. However, Edwards said that her goal is to always keep on the cutting edge, to keep doing more, and each year, to do at least one thing better. She said that that is how she stays ahead in the wine business.
Just last year she began a research project in collaboration with an Israeli program called Saturas and UC Davis. Merry Edwards Winery is one of only three companies in the entire country that is involved with the research program.
“Saturas is trying to create a permanent implant for a vine that will communicate data from constant monitoring of the vine,” Edwards said. “This project is very important to us because it will allow us to conserve and more carefully use our water.”
Edwards said she is a Sonoma County Farm Bureau member because she values the direct access to good information and updates on what is happening in the agriculture community.
“Organizations like Farm Bureau provide information that you need to stay successful, which often leads us to ask other questions or realize new things we need to research,” Edwards said. “It is important to us to support the organization because, in turn, it can support us.”
Edwards said that her biggest motivation to succeed, simply, is to continually improve.
“My whole philosophy has always been to continually improve and make better wine,” Edwards said. “You can never rest on your laurels because everyone is always nipping at your heels.”
She added that she enjoys being a winemaker because it is such a multifaceted profession.
“We take good care of our vineyards and are always learning new things about the best way to farm,” Edward said. “Then there is the winemaking, which is always exciting because there is always something new and different to try. Finally, there are all the fans we have that just love our wine and it’s fun interacting with them and seeing how excited they are to visit the winery.”
Interested in tasting Merry Edward’s exquisite wines? Visit the tasting room, open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except for major holidays, for a free tasting. To learn more about Merry Edwards visit https://www.merryedwards.com/
POST INTERVIEW NOTE: The Louis Roederer Champagne house has purchased Merry Edwards Winery. Congratulations to Merry for all her success. We can’t wait to see what you do next Merry. We know it will be great!