One of Washington's most revered farming families is making its mark in the wine industry.
The Mercers arrived in the Yakima Valley in the 1880s and have been working the soil ever since. The Mercer family’s history in the wine industry goes back to 1972, when Don Mercer planted the first wine grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills south of the Yakima Valley. He planted Cabernet Sauvignon and called it Mercer Ranch Vineyards.
In 1996, that vineyard was purchased by a consortium of winemakers and a grape grower named Paul Champoux, and today Champoux Vineyards is one of the state's revered plantings.
Meanwhile, the Mercers continued to build their farming operation with several crops, including wine grapes. In 2006, they launched Mercer Estates with longtime family friend Mike Hogue, who had sold his winery — Hogue Cellars — five years earlier. The winery and tasting room were built in Prosser.
Today, the Mercer family, led by brothers Rob and Will, owns 100 percent of the winery. In 2012, former Chateau Ste. Michelle winemaker Jessica Munnell took over winemaking at Mercer and is crafting stellar wines. She makes two tiers: Mercer Estates and the value-priced Mercer Canyons.
Here are a few of the Mercer wines we've tasted recently. Ask for them at your favorite wine shop or contact the winery directly:
Mercer Estates 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Yakima Valley, $13: Granny Smith apple, fresh mint and rosewater aromas lead to flavors that are racy and steely from start to finish with gooseberry, lime juice and wet stone. (13.3 percent alcohol)
Mercer Estates 2013 Pinot Gris, Yakima Valley, $13: Inviting aromas of Mandarin orange, apricot and lemon tart include kitchen spices. The breezy entry to the palate leads with ripe peach and rosewater as its builds with lime and finishes with a pinch of white pepper. (13.3 percent alcohol)
Mercer Estates 2013 Culloden Vineyard Viognier, Horse Heaven Hills, $13: Gorgeous aromas of orange and vanilla cream lead to flavors of pineapple and Mandarin orange on the midpalate. (13. percent alcohol)
Mercer Estates 2011 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $20: Opulent aromas of black cherry, ripe blueberry and coffee give way to flavors of blackberry, blueberry and boysenberry, all while tannins provide the firmness of a good handshake. (14.5 percent alcohol)
Mercer Estates 2011 Reserve Cavalie, Columbia Valley, $40: This Bordeaux-style blend leads with Merlot (63 percent). Toasted oak, ripe plum, stewed cherries and baking spice aromas funnel into an easy-drinking profile of sweet black fruit. (14.7 percent alcohol)
Mercer Estates 2011 Reserve Ode to Brothers, Horse Heaven Hills, $40: This blend of Grenache (40 percent) and Mourvèdre (20 percent) from Spice Cabinet Vineyard with Syrah from Champoux brings a nose reminiscent of raspberry jam on toast, joined by dark chocolate and baking spices. Juicy flavors of Marionberry, blueberry and pomegranate flavors are supported by moderate tannins. (14.9 percent alcohol)
Mercer Canyons 2013 Riesling, Yakima Valley, $10: Aromas of glacéed apricots, peach, Granny Smith apple and pear lead to a bright entry that features tropical and orchard flavors, cast within a remarkable balance of fruit, sweetness and spritzy acidity. (12.9 percent alcohol)
Mercer Canyons 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $14: Intense dark fruit aromas are led by black cherry and black currant, backed by brown sugar, black pepper, cocoa butter and a dusting of minerality so often found in Horse Heaven Hills wines. Inside is a rich entry of cherries, currants and plum in a lighter structure that comes with a luscious midpalate, sandy tannins and a rewarding finish. (13.9 percent alcohol)
Mercer Canyons 2012 Red Blend, Columbia Valley, $14: This blend is built upon the shoulders of Merlot (68 percent). Sweet black cherry and Marionberry aromas include cola, porcini mushroom, eucalyptus, Greek olives and mint. The drink is plush and hedonistic with more cherry, brambleberries and blueberry flavors. (13.8 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.