Talking Approachable Merlot with Chris Hyde

Chris Hyde, general manager of Hyde Vineyards recalled, “It started with my father, making Merlot in the barn. My dad, Larry, had come to Carneros in 1979 after working at all these great places such as Stag’s Leap, Robert Mondavi, and Joseph Phelps.” These 200+ acres uniquely straddling Napa and Sonoma counties in the Carneros AVA, enjoy marked maritime influence in the stretch south toward San Pablo Bay. Hyde Vineyards has been highly influential within the grape growing com- munity for decades.

Growing up between the vines, helping his father, working in the fields, and experimenting with homemade wine, Chris was quick to say he’s very proud that today, Hyde is one of Carneros’ largest growers of Merlot. As the epicenter  for that “beautiful, versatile grape,” he called out the qualities that make Carneros an ideal growing place for the classic expression cool-climate Merlot. Chief among these are a cooler climate, shallow clay soil with low PH foggy mornings, windy afternoons, and a little bit slower ripening than is found in the higher elevation, warmer parts of the valley.

Enthusiasm for the “frequently under- appreciated Merlot” peppered Chris Hyde’s conversation about the increasingly popular varietal. He indicated that praise for the “great grape” is justified by the strong appeal of  good Merlot as a household family wine to be enjoyed alone, over a meal, or laid down for up to 20 years for something even more interesting. Furthermore, said Chris, “Several key Merlot qualities include its approachability, its fruit-forward, floral aspect, fragrance, smooth structure, low tannins, its versatility in food pairings, plus an attractive price point.”

In 2020, Carneros experienced the harshest frost season in over a decade, an intense 10-day heatwave and, of course, the fires that followed. When asked about how those conditions impacted their Merlot harvest, Chris said, “Fortunately, our Merlot dodged a bullet. The grapes were in beautiful condition going into harvest. We can thank the  beneficial airflow in Carneros and good timing before the second fires.”

This year, the production of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Viognier will be about 40 percent down from the average year; Merlot will only see about 300 cases. While there is some distribution outside California, notably in New York  and Florida, Hyde Vineyard Estate Winery is the best place to taste Hyde Wines.

In 2017, the family built their own tasting room for visitors at the Hyde Vineyard Estate Winery right at the acclaimed vine- yards in the heart of Napa’s Carneros AVA. Now open Thursday through Monday by appointment, guests are welcomed in parties up to six on the quaint terrace to enjoy five estate-grown wines. The spacious, attractive indoor tasting room is expected to reopen when the local guidelines allow.

hyde vineyard


1044 Los Carneros Ave., Napa, CA 94559


Article By: Laurie Jo Miller Farr