Q&A with Matt Merrill of Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery
I’ve known Matt Merrill for several years now and have learned quite a bit about him and his family history here in our area. One of the things I’ve learned about this area is that we have a very rich history that involves family legacy over generations. I think it’s one of those things worth learning about and documenting for the generations coming after us. So let’s learn a bit more about Matt and his family.
Q&A with Matt Merrill of Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery
How long has the Merrill Family been farming along the central coast?
Has it always been wine grapes or have there been other crops?
My father Dana Merrill grew up on his grandfather Samuel de la Cuesta’s farm in the Santa Ynez Valley learning to farm alfalfa, walnuts, and sheep. The de la Cuestas’ history dates back seven generations to the Mission and Rancho period in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties with various stints in agriculture. After graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo my father also farmed with his brother Kevin various crops before moving on to wine grapes in 1981. He started a successful vineyard management business, Mesa Vineyard Management and added Pomar Junction Winery in 2008.
When was the first vintage for Pomar Junction?
In 2002 we had a 50/50 arrangement with John Munch so we had wine that we could use as samples to help sell the grapes. We only had a barrel or so from that vintage. John convinced us to make more so we made 182 cases with him as winemaker in 2003. From there we added other varietals and eventually applied for the Tasting Room permits.
How many planted acres does Pomar have?
91 acres of Vineyards and 6 acres of Olives
How many of those acres do you use for Pomar Junction and how many do you sell?
We sold about 88-percent of the fruit from Pomar Junction Vineyard to other wineries, which is about average with what we have done the past seven years or so. We really only keep a small amount for ourselves.
I know you guys are SIP Certified, why is sustainability important to you?
Well, my father Dana Merrill was a charter member of the Central Coast Vineyard Team, whose mission is to identify and promote the most environmentally safe, viticulturally and economically sustainable farming methods, while maintaining or improving quality and flavor of wine grapes, as well as modeling and promoting the public trust of stewardship for natural resources. This really fits our philosophy as a family as it is essential to be good stewards of the land.
I know you also have a vineyard management division, how many acres are you managing…roughly?
Mesa Vineyard Management currently manages around 11,000 acres of high-quality vineyards covering San Benito County, Monterey County, Paso Robles, Edna Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, Cuyama Valley and Santa Rita Hills. Not only does Pomar Junction get it’s wine grapes from our family vineyard but we also get our choice of fruit in these other AVA’s as well. Some of our clients include Hahn Estates, Gainey Vineyards, Treasury Wine Estates, Sierra Madre Vineyards and Castoro Cellars to name a few.
Why did you choose to get in the family business?
I grew up in the middle of San Bernabe Vineyard which was around 9,000 acres at its height. There trucks and tractors for miles working on the vineyard. I started working in the office there when I was 14 during my Summer break and moved on to the vineyards when I was 16 painting end posts. When it came time to going to college I just kept heading that direction because of the experience I had. I did just about every job there was as I continued to work on my breaks until I graduated from Cal Poly.
When did the tasting room open?
Thanksgiving Weekend of 2008 we opened.
Who is the winemaker? How long has that person been the winemaker?
Jim Shumate. He started in June of 2011.
What are your daily responsibilities? How about your dad?
I wear a few hats on a daily basis. I manage 650 acres of vineyards in the El Pomar and Creston Districts, which includes Pomar Junction and Creston Ridge. I watch over budgets, direct cultural practices (pruning, irrigation, harvest etc) and work with the owners of the ranches and the fruit buyers of the vineyards. I typically have 40 people working for me daily in the vineyards throughout the year and peak at around 120 people during harvest time. In the winery, I schedule how much fruit we need to take in and go over the harvest plans with our winemaker. We also work together on a bottling plan deciding which wines will be ready and when to bottle. I work on the label design and packaging of the wines with input from our winemaker and sales staff. I help coordinate label printing whether it is our paper label wines or the Reserve Silkscreen lineup. I also run the website, webcart, and Point of Sale System. I work with our staff on event planning such as Train Wreck Friday’s or our amazing Winemaker Dinners in the Merrill Family Wine Cellar. This past year I have returned to the vineyard managing side of our business which would not have been possible without my wife helping with many aspects of the business and our staff stepping up and handling more responsibility. My dad handles more of the big picture overall business plan.
Are your wife, mom, or other family members involved in the business?
My parents Dana and Marsha own Pomar Junction along with my wife Nicole and I. My wife runs the Wine Club, email marketing and compliance. My mother Marsha helped design the tasting room and bring in the gift items. My father Dana is basically the CFO.
What is your favorite variety of wine to mess with in the vineyard, in the winery, and to drink? It’s okay if the answer to each is different.
Over the years I have learned to enjoy the intricacies of the many varietals we farm. They all have interesting characteristics which strongly depend on how the weather is that year and how the canopy/vine balance was managed.
Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing?
Any wine and cheese for Appetizers, Pork Belly with a GSM for a main course or anything dark chocolate with an inky Syrah for dessert if I must choose.
Do you foresee your kids getting into the family business?
I would hope that would be a possibility. They are only 4 and 7 so it is really too early to tell if they have interest in the winery.