This is the first article in a 20-part consecutive series exploring the Chautauqua Wine Trail.
At Merritt Estate Winery, it's all about bringing a distinct personality to the winery experience and encouraging visitors to have fun. "We tend to be very relaxed, not stuffy," says owner William T. Merritt, who in 1976 established Merritt as the first farm winery organized in Chautauqua County under regulations signed by then-governor Hugh Carey. The origins of the Merritt Estate Winery, however, date back to the late 1800's, when the original homestead belonged to the parents of Marguerite Merritt-Sample.
That family tradition continues, with William's son Jason, a third generation Merritt winemaker, working in concert with his father to oversee all functions at the winery.
Edwin Rodriguez Jr., of Merritt, explains that creating a memorable and enjoyable experience is at the root of Merritt's success. "We have a lot of personality here," he says. "We're more than a tasting room; we're part of the community." He explains that Merritt participates in nearly twenty festivals throughout the year, both locally and across the state. "A lot of wineries don't get out into the community like we do," notes Rodriguez. "People see us at festivals and taste our wines and Sangria Slush and begin to associate our crest with fun," he says. "We work hard towards making that connection."
Merritt produces approximately 20 wines ranging from a dry merlot to a very sweet late harvest ice wine. It is most noted for its Bella Rosa, a sweet and versatile Lambrusco-style wine. They also produce a Sangria Slush, which is popular at festivals across the state.
This weekend, Merritt will host its own annual Strawberry Festival this weekend beginning at noon each day with an evening concert each evening.
The festival, in its 28th year, includes fresh strawberry desserts and free wine tastings and tours as well as a classic car cruise-in, live and silent auctions and food live music. All auction proceeds will benefit Brian Moorman's PUNT Foundation. Moorman will be in attendance Saturday for autographs and auction activities.
The winery will be a sponsor of the 1st America's Grape Country Wine Festival August 9th & 10th at the Chautauqua County Fairgrounds and will host Merritt's fall harvest festival, Septemberfest, on September 6th & 7th at the winery.