Pullman Good Food Co-op (PGFC) is passionate about supporting local farmers and
producers on the Palouse. Buying local is good for the vendor, good for the
consumer and good for our economy. When we open look for their product on
PGFC’s store shelves. Enjoy their story...
Alchemy of a Winemaker
By Rylie Gabehart, PGFC member owner
Despite the chilly weather & now expected sparse patronage typical of the social distancing world, the patio of Merry Cellars appeared warm & welcoming. On the (October) day I interviewed Patrick Merry, the owner & founder of the business, a festive skeleton sat near the entrance enjoying a glass of red wine. The smell of fermenting grapes wafted from the vats and barrels of wine in the back, evoking memories of crush in the Napa Valley. One of two full- time employees offered a delicious blend of Roussanne & Viognier she had blended herself. The blend was smooth, sweet, and delightful to sip while listening to the story of the start & evolution of Merry Cellars.
Patrick Merry moved to Pullman in the early 2000’s to pursue a PhD in computer science. He enjoyed coding and wanted to continue his education after earning an MBA from Gonzaga University. He had always loved wine tasting & collecting and made the decision to start producing his own while still working on his PhD at WSU. He cold-called Stillwater Creek (his primary vineyard today) and with the help of his family, he produced 400 cases (12 barrels) of his inaugural vintage merlot. There was no stopping him after that, he decided to stop pursuing the PhD and put all his efforts into wine making.
“I found along the way that this was something I was a lot more passionate about. I love it because it’s hands on & it’s enjoyable, it’s a huge intellectual challenge…but the end product- it’s so cool because wine is social, it’s celebratory & I get to share it with people or at least participate in them sharing it with their loved ones and friends and that’s pretty rewarding. You meet all sorts of people.”
He opened his commercial winery in the old Post Office (now Paradise Creek) in 2004 & made his debut selling at the 2005 Lentil Festival. “Some say making wine is the easy part” he shared, “selling is the hard part.” Opening a commercial winery building before the first batch is finished resting isn’t a common strategy in the wine business, but it certainly worked for him. He took that first merlot to local bars and stores while expanding hours in the tasting room and working on his next batch. He tripled production in the second year, and the business has continued expanding since. Merry Cellars now produces five different whites and eight different reds, both showcasing individual wines and blending. He’s worked with a dozen and a half different local vineyards, finding the quality and consistency at Stillwater Creek gained his loyalty. He mostly lets the grower do the growing, but is able to collaborate if he wants a specific trait in the starting fruit. He likes starting with a high quality product & doctoring it minimally so as to really bring out the flavors of the fruit. Part of his love for wine making is the challenge of making a great product, with the chemistry & timing involved he says “there is a bit of alchemy to it.”
Patrick has made good use of his MBA by doing all the HR, accounting, payroll, bookkeeping, advertising and filing himself. “There’s no such thing as a typical workday & I wear many hats”- another challenge he enjoys. He’s streamlined his production process over the years, but still appreciates the help of his family during processing when there is a lot of work to be done in hauling fruit, sorting, de-stemming and crushing. His parents typically make a trip from Patrick’s hometown in Missoula once a year to help with harvesting & processing. Merry Cellars has become an integral part of the community, taking future vintners from WSU as interns and employees and providing a local gathering place. Merry Cellars has been in the current location on Henley Court since 2010 & has become a popular destination for WSU parents & alumni. Although the pandemic has certainly affected the tasting room & sales to bars and restaurants, Patrick has found that much of the revenue lost there has more or less been balanced by an increase in direct to consumer sales. Local regulatory agencies have eased the process, but the closure of many local businesses during quarantine has, of course, affected his patronage.
You can find Merry Cellars at many local businesses across the quad cities or at the tasting room, where curbside service can be arranged during social distancing.