Jim & Rich Merryman grew up on this Amador property on weekends and vacations with their parents. The property was originally their Great Aunt Simone’s which she bought it in 1936 and was convinced “gold was still in the hills”. She and her workers dug mines in the hillside anxiously wanting to strike gold, as she had previously done so successfully in Alaska. It was a big gamble but no gold was found. Thus the name Casino Mine Ranch. Over the years Jim & Rich purchased the property from their parents (who inherited it from Simone).
This 60 acre site currently has 14 acres planted. While not striking gold, they did find an underground creek, which by today’s standard is almost as valuable as gold. This underground creek runs directly below their planted vineyard.
Now as fate would have it, Casino Mine Ranch was a hillside property with the abandoned mining caves, when Rich invited his friend Andy Erickson to visit. They spent many weekends shooting skeet and apparently imbibing in Bud Light. During one weekend, Rich suggested he would plant grapes, if Andy agreed to be the winemaker. Fast forward 11 years and Rich had planted Teroldego, Grenache, Tempranillo, Mourvèdre and Vermentino varietals on the property. He then got ahold of Andy, who today is one of the top 5 winemakers in Napa with a resume of making wines for Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate, Staglin Family Vineyards, and Mayacamas Vineyards. These are recognized as the elite pedigree of wines that Napa has to offer. Andy, true to his word, is the Consulting winemaker and Jessica Tarpy Shasheen is the winemaker under Andy’s direction. They make their wine at a custom crush house in Napa so both Andy & Jessica can be hands-on without driving to Amador County.
I met with Mackenzie Cecchi whose title is “Chief of Staff” in July to tour and get some background information on the development of Casino Mine Ranch. They do not have a tasting room today, but have by word of mouth, developed a sizable wine club membership consisting of close to 350 members. All the purchases are done online. The morning I was there, they officially applied for a tasting room permit which should be granted by the end of August.
I have since had the opportunity to taste three of the wines at home. The first was the 2016 Tempranillo. This wine on eye is medium body with both purple and red hues. This Tempranillo from Amador County presents aromas of violets and dark chocolate. Dark fruits were prevalent and tannins smooth and relaxed.
Another wine was their 2018 Rosé, which is a 50/50 blend of Mourvèdre and Grenache. Great peach/copper color and floral bouquet on the nose. Whole cluster soak provides some spice to mango & peach aromas. Admittedly not a big Rosé fan, but this was excellent served chilled, especially on a 95 degree day while sitting on the patio!!
This was by far the best Vermentino I have tasted out of the Sierra foothills! As a footnote, I am generally “a sucker” for whole cluster pressing, which imparts such character into the wine. This was fermented in stainless steel but the layers of citrus (lemon/honeysuckle) and tropical flavors of mango and grapefruit were outstanding. The floral nose was refreshing and beckoned one to partake of the juice.
Additionally, three other wines are produced. A 2016 Marcel (80% Tempranillo/20% Teroldego) a 2017 Grenache Noir and a 2016 Simone (52% Mourvèdre/48% Grenache). I have yet to taste them but did buy for the cellar!
Future plans. Once they get the tasting room permit, they will use portions of the existing home and various outbuildings (including the caves) for tastings and special events. On the drawing board is another parcel, recently purchased, down the road closer to Plymouth, which will be their main tasting room. Estimates are by the end of 2020. The artist renditions I was able to preview, show a large indoor/outdoor tasting room overlooking a large pond. The area also has a spacious lawn which will be able to accommodate weddings and special functions. Today they are running around 2500 cases/year and this will allow them growth to 5,000 cases/year.
So, in summary, Jim and Rich, have a wonderful piece of land (originally from their family), a premier consulting winemaker Andy Erickson and a well-seasoned winemaker Jessica Tarpy Shasheen who has made wines in Italy, South Africa, etc. (friends). With Family and Friends, they are destined for success. Thus the moral of the story: Family and Friends is what life is about. Add some excellent wines and you have a tremendous bonus!
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