Markham celebrates 35 vintages of its flagship Merlot

The old stone cellar at Markham Vineyards, built in 1879, has survived earthquakes and Prohibition and is home to today's barrel room. (Image courtesy of markhamvineyards.com)

The old stone cellar at Markham Vineyards, built in 1879, has survived earthquakes and Prohibition and is still the barrel room. (Images courtesy of markhamvineyards.com)

MARKHAM VINEYARDS has staying power. It is one of the oldest continuously operating wineries in Napa Valley, the present staff has been in place for decades, and the wines are made off 350 acres of estate vineyards. In modern times, it is also one of a handful of wineries in Napa that built its reputation on Merlot and currently is celebrating the 35th vintage. Critics love this winery for the quality and prices: The full markup for the 2014 Napa Valley Merlot is $25. You’ll find it for less.

The history is impressive: Bordeaux immigrant Jean Laurent founded a modest winery in a wooden structure in 1874. Business was so good he built the stone cellar that is still the heart of the operation. Laurent’s winery grew to be one of the largest California producers in the wine boom of the 1880s, when wines were sold in bulk and shipped by train to the East Coast. After his death in 1890, the property had a string of owners, winding up in the hands of Kate and Bruce Markham in 1977, who would totally modernize it. InsubMarkham 1980, they launched their first vintage of Merlot using grapes from grower Nathan Fay whose famous vineyard would be purchased by Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.

Markham Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley 2014, $25: The fruit, the infusion of oak, the intensity all give character to this wine. It’s bold and powerful, and begins with a blast of aromas — blackberry, ripe plum, vanilla, dark chocolate and espresso coffee bean. It moves on to chewy, velvety tannins and big approachable flavors that will further develop with aging.  It’s 86 percent Merlot, 12 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 2 percent Petite Sirah. What a value at the full markup of $25.

You can reach Sandra Silfven at ssilfven@hotmail.com.