“It’s all crap you know, the things they say about me. It’s all crap.” Merlot took a long drag from his cigarette. A glass of half drunk scotch sat on the bar before him. It was his fourth.
“It’s bad enough that I had to grow up under the shadow of that pompous jerk Cabernet my whole life. I suffered a lot of abuse because of him. Then that movie came out.” The movie was of course Sideways, the cult classic starring Paul Giamatti. Paul’s character, Miles, at one point bluntly refuses to drink “any EXPLETIVE Merlot.” The film, which centered around two best friends’ misadventures in Santa Barbara wine country is said to have given a huge boost to Pinot Noir sales, a varietal Paul’s character was particularly fond of. The opposite was said to be the case for Merlot, with sales reportedly dipping after the damning statement.
I met up with Merlot in a run down bar outside of Oakland, California, where he calls home when not on the road. “Back in the day, I was the man. Everyone wanted a piece of me. It was crazy really. A blend over in Sonoma, jump over to Napa to work with a cult producer. I was all over California, not to mention France where I am originally from and Australia. Then people started to question my character. ‘It’s too fruity, it isn’t interesting enough,’” he said in a mocking high pitched tone. “Next thing you know, I go from one of the stars, to an after thought. I was all of a sudden the Corey Feldman of wine. Everyone knew who I was, but no one wanted to work with me.”
There have been reports of Round-up addiction, a charge Merlot flatly denies. “It’s all of those bio-dynamic obsessed, Prius driving, hippie grapes saying that stuff. It isn’t true. For awhile, I will admit, I was pretty into mealy bug spray, but I kicked that two years ago and have been clean since.”
Merlot tells me he is determined to get back on top. He glances at his cigarette which burns dangerously close to his cluster. “Like this,” he says, lifting the cigarette. “I gotta kick this next,” he says as he reaches for another.
The reality is that the American consumer is fickle. We love to love something almost as much as we love to throw it away. We will build something up one day just to watch it collapse the next. American pop culture is littered with discarded careers, trends, and fashions. We are no different with wine.
“There is no loyalty anymore,” Merlot complains. “Not even ten or twelve years ago, I could go out clubbing with Cabernet and Chardonnay, and we were the focus of the party. It was like ‘hey check that out, it’s Merlot with Cab and Chard.’ Cabernet has kept in there, although I think he’s had a lot work done, if you ask me, but Chard’s story is similar to mine.’
I ask him what he thinks led to American people loosing interest in him and his Burgundian companion. “It’s those trendy Rhone wines, them and Pinot. They came in and it was like all of a sudden we didn’t exist. They don’t want Merlot now, they want Syrah, they want Grenache. Same for Chardonnay, he’s old news. Now it’s Marsanne, or Roussanne. They are The Hills, we are Saved By the Bell, at least that’s how it is portrayed.”
“Their day will come though,” he says as he stares down at his glass, “it can’t last for them forever.” There is a long silence after he says this. For a while we sit and look at our drinks. Then, Merlot rubs the stubble of his several day-old beard and says with tepid confidence, “I’ll be back, I’m going to come back.”