He lets guests choose. Red or white? Dry or off-dry?

In this tasting, first up is the 2022 Roussanne⁠—white, semi-sweet, and silky. It’s creamy yet crisp, with “a lot of pear, a hint of citrus, and a little bit of stone fruit⁠—peach⁠—but not much. There’s minerality, too, which is nice. But it’s pretty faint,” notes winemaker Patrick Merry (’05 Enol. Cert.). A few swirls and swishes later, he adds, “I’m getting a little green apple now that it’s opened up.”

Smiling man and woman in front of wine barrels
Patrick and Shannon Merry at a winery Valentine’s Day dinner. (Courtesy Merry Cellars)

Merry, proprietor of Pullman’s only winery, has been offering Roussanne since the late 2010s. The latest vintage was released in December 2023. Merry recommends pairing it with “anything with a cream sauce. It would do well with fats—a fattier fish, salad with a creamy dressing, probably not ranch but maybe blue cheese, a pork chop or tenderloin.”

Merry Cellars specializes in single-varietal red wines and red blends, but offers several white varietals as well as a popular, limited-release rosé, which sells out each season. Some of the busiest times at the winery⁠—which celebrates its twentieth anniversary in May⁠—coincide with big events at Washington State University Pullman: Family Weekends, homecoming, commencement.

No matter the season, there’s always work to do. “It’s never-ending. There’s always wine at some point in the maturation process,” explains Merry, who came to the Palouse to pursue a doctoral degree in computer science at the University of Idaho. In between classes, he picked up a new hobby: winemaking. Although he didn’t complete his dissertation at UI, he finished his enology certificate from WSU, commuting from Moscow, Idaho, and then Pullman to Prosser.

“Something had to give, and it was the PhD,” Merry says. “I had more fun making wine. It’s not only that it’s more creative, it’s also more out of your control. I went from one extreme⁠—telling a machine exactly what to do⁠—to being given whatever Mother Nature hands me. I can fix acidity. I can fix sugar. But you can’t make great wine out of mediocre fruit. You can’t fix that.”

Merry established his winery in 2004, producing an initial 400 cases. Today, Merry Cellars makes 5,000 cases per year and sources its grapes from a single vineyard: Stillwater Creek Vineyard on Royal Slope near Royal City. The grapes are hand-picked, hand-sorted, and minimally processed for wines that are, the winery’s website notes, “age-worthy, yet approachable, and just a little rugged around the edges.”

Consider the 2020 Sangiovese, a lighter dry and very versatile red that’s aged nine months on French oak then a year on neutral American oak. “It’s got an earthiness to it,” Merry says. “You get a little bit of leather in there. A little bit of cherry pits. A medley of red fruit. It’s really well balanced.”

Pair it with cured meats and harder cheeses, even hardier salads, such as a steak salad. “You could even get away with salmon,” says Merry, who grew up in Billings, Montana, earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Rocky Mountain College, worked in information technology, then completed an MBA at Gonzaga University before moving to the Palouse.

Merry Cellars started in downtown Pullman’s Old Post Office building, with production in the basement and a first-floor tasting room that opened in 2005—the same year the wine club launched. By 2009, the winery had outgrown the space, moving production to the Port of Whitman County’s Pullman Industrial Park. The new tasting room opened in 2010. Not long later, it began serving wine—popular red blends, in particular—on tap.

Favorites include Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Sangiovese. But the “hands-down,” top-selling red is Crimson, described on the website as a “smoky and masculine” New World version of a Bordeaux-style blend. “Mild herbal notes of eucalyptus and green tea gracefully complement spirited tannins and an ultra-smooth finish,” it continues.

The top-selling white is Viognier. But rosé is the number one seller overall. And it’s only available for two and a half or three months of the year. “We sell more bottles of rosé than we do any other bottle any time of the year,” says Merry, whose parents kept a wine cellar while he was growing up. “It made an impression on me,” he says.

Merry prefers “a bigger, bolder red. I love Cabernet Franc, and I really like making it. What are you going to catch me sneaking at the end of the day? Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre, Syrah, or any good red blend.”

While he does age wine on oak⁠—50 percent French, 20 percent Hungarian, 20 percent American, 10 percent Russian⁠—Merry doesn’t overwhelm wines with a lot of new oak, preferring older, neutral oak. “It’s a stylistic choice. Neutral oak really lets the wine shine through. The more oak you put on, the more you mask flaws or faults. If you have a lightly oaked wine, and it’s not well made, it’s going to show.”

His final offering of this tasting: the 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon, another new release. On the nose, het gets “a lot bramble. It’s almost like the canes of a blackberry bush.” On the palate, “a little tobacco. Dried berries. Dried tart cherry. A little cranberry. A little pepper, which I like. A little leather. A little pencil lead.”

Merry Cellars introduced its food menu in early 2020, “the week before the pandemic,” Merry remembers. It still offers bruschetta and cheese and charcuterie boards. But its forthcoming location will be able to provide even more tapas and small bites to pair with wine. “We could even do wine dinners,” says Merry, who enjoys gardening and bee-keeping during his time away from the winery. “I want to have an apiary on site at the new location as well as a greenhouse to serve the tasting room.”

The new spot, a larger site within the industrial park, is slated to open in two years, increasing the winery’s size from about 6,000 to 18,000 square feet and featuring a larger tasting room and production area. “We could effectively triple production,” Merry says. “But I don’t want to do that immediately. I want to grow slowly to double production.”

All but one of Merry’s employees—four full time, one part time—are WSU students or graduates. He bumps up part-time help in late summer through fall. Sometimes, such as during the winery’s busy barrel tasting, his wife Shannon (’09 Sci., ’14 DVM) will help pour. She owns her own business, too: Pullman’s Traveling Tails mobile veterinary service. The couple lives in Pullman with their pet frog and four cats—and are grateful for WSU and Pullman.

“I’d say 90 percent of our wine is sold and consumed within a 30-mile radius of the winery,” Merry notes. “It might even be tighter than that. The community support for us has been invaluable.”

Woman pouring red wine into a glassCourtesy Merry Cellars