When Atascadero resident John Merrick first planted a small vineyard on his west Paso Robles ranch a decade ago, he didn't do it as a business venture necessarily, but as a creative outlet for his own experiments.
"It was really about exploring," said Merrick, who's an architect. "I've always been sort of a scientist in a way."
Without knowing it at the time, Merrick was planting the vines for what would eventually become MEA Wine, his boutique winery that he now operates with his wife, Daniela Medrano, a longtime local whose mother owned the popular Mexican restaurant in Atascadero, Salsitas.
Last month, after several years of preparation, the couple opened MEA Wine's first tasting room on Traffic Way, which also houses the winery, and is a mere six blocks away from their Atascadero home.
"By 2017, I was ready to bottle some wine for commercial sale, but we were still looking for a place to move into," Merrick explained. "When this property became available, it was perfect for us because it's very close to home."
- Photos Courtesy Of Mea Wine
- POWER COUPLE John Merrick and Daniela Medrano (pictured) operate MEA Wine in Atascadero, with Merrick serving as the winemaker and Medrano running the business side.
MEA Wine is a true family venture. Merrick is the winemaker while Medrano runs the business side as a former accountant and controller. Their three boys—ages 10, 12, and 16—also contribute.
"Our 10-year-old is a hard, diligent worker. He loves power-washing," Medrano said with a laugh.
Their 12-year-old is also making creative contributions. His artwork—a painting of a sunflower bursting with color—is featured on MEA's latest chardonnay label, which is set for release this month.
"We were painting Mason jars one day over COVID, and we really liked one of his pieces," Medrano said.
Speaking about his winemaking approach, Merrick said he has a particular interest and passion for white wine, especially for working with lesser-known grape varietals "that are just being discovered."
His four estate wines right now are a 2019 vermentino, a 2019 albariño, a 2020 vermentino/albariño bend, and a 2018 syrah/tempranillo blend.
"I've gotten to know and love making white wine. I really enjoy making them," he said. "The grapes I like working with are maybe some of the lesser-known grapes. It's a broader spectrum of grape varieties then the standard focus."
Merrick said that those interests were inspired by his experiences tasting various wines from around the world—and wondering how they'd do here in SLO County.
"I wanted to explore not only what those were like in my area, but what are the different styles or directions that I can take them," he said.
Those four wines—and more than a dozen others sourced from other Central Coast vineyards—are now available for tasting at MEA Wine's location at 4405 Traffic Way.
Medrano said that their dog- and kid-friendly tasting room keeps a "relaxed, causal atmosphere," where visitors can meet the winemaker and engage in a direct and intimate experience.
- Photos Courtesy Of Mea Wine
- FAMILY VENTURE MEA Wine is a true family business. This chardonnay label (pictured) is artwork made by the owners' 12-year-old son.
The room itself has numerous personal touches in it—Merrick used his architectural expertise to handcraft the tasting bar out of barrel racks and reclaimed wood, and Medrano sells local art pieces out of the "bright, fun, painted" space.
"Everything is kind of done in that fashion," Merrick said. "Our vision and handiwork is evident everywhere."
With COVID-19 restrictions finally easing on wineries, the couple said their years-in-the-making venture now seems perfectly timed. MEA Wine is open Thursday through Sunday, for both reservations and walk-ups, starting at 1 p.m. each day.
"When I first purchased property here, I think in the back of my mind the whole time I had a desire to be in the wine industry, and not just live in it," Merrick reflected. "It just took a long time for that gestation to occur. It's been going very well." Δ
Assistant Editor Peter Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.