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Merlot wine grapes are the most planted in France, the third most planted in the world, third in Washington State, and are used in blending for many Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Yet Merlot wines suffer from lackluster demand—sales are down by around four percent from a year ago, while other varieties are up. Why the dichotomy?

A diverse panel representing wine producers, growers, critics, educators, and media took an in-depth look at Merlot and its place in Washington’s wine industry during the recent annual meeting of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers held in Kennewick, Washington.

Merlot is prolific and grows well in many places, especially Washington. With the exception of cool seasons experienced the last two years, the variety has been a consistent producer for most Washington growers. But with disappointing sales, should growers continue to plant the variety? Does it have a future?

Merlot’s back seat problem may be more of a marketing issue than with grape quality, suggested the panelists. Washington may have a unique opportunity to embrace this grape that makes Cabernet Sauvigon wines better, says Peter Bos, educator at South Seattle Community College.

Read the full story in a future issue of the Good Fruit Grower.