World-renowned experts on the Merlot varietal convened at Sterling Vineyards in the Napa Valley for the second International Merlot Conference, May 8 & 9.

The bi-annual conference featured panel discussions by top Merlot producers, wine media and celebrated members of the wine industry. Attendance was limited to winemakers, wine-grape growers and press. Only 100 seats were available at the conference.

Traveling all the way from the Netherlands, renowned wine writer Hubrecht Duijker delivered the keynote speech and moderated a panel of international Merlot producers. Other speakers included Andrea Immer, MS, Beverage Director, Starwood Hotels & Resorts; Tim Gaiser, MS, wine.com; Rob Hunter, Director of Winemaking, Sterling Vineyards, Napa Valley; Gary Figgins, Winemaker/Owner, Leonetti Cellar, Walla Walla, Washington; and Jacques Seysses, Winemaker/Owner, Domaine Dujac and Domaine de Triennes in France. A complete list of panelists is available upon request.

Christian Moueix, producer of the world's most expensive, and arguably, finest Merlot, Pomerol's Chateau Petrus, led a vertical tasting of another of his family's great chateaux, Chateau Trotanoy.

The first day of the conference concluded with a gala dinner in the historic cask room at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. Each course was paired with Merlots from the panelists representing the following regions: Napa Valley and Sonoma County, California; Pomerol and the Var region, France; Columbia Valley, Washington State; Hawke's Bay, New Zealand, and Colchagua Valley, Chile.

The second day of the IMC included Zelma Long's fascinating interview and tasting with Gary Andrus, who is recognized as a leader in Merlot clonal research. A highly entertaining panel of Merlot pioneers, who addressed the history of Merlot in the Napa Valley, followed. The panel consisted of the following wine industry greats: Ric Forman, the original Sterling Vineyards winemaker; Beringer's Ed Sbragia, Cuvaison's John Thacher; Duckhorn's Tom Rinadi; and Louis M. Martini's Michael Martini. Panel moderator Rod Smith quipped, "It's like the Mount Rushmore of Merlot."

A complete transcript of the International Merlot Conference 2000 will be available shortly on the Internet at www.aboutwines.com. Slides are available upon request.

The Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines Company, a division of Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, Inc., with principal offices in San Mateo and Napa Valley, California and New York City, produces and markets the wines of Sterling Vineyards, Tessera, The Monterey Vineyard and the sparkling wines of Mumm Cuvee Napa. The company is the exclusive U.S. importer of G.H. Mumm and Perrier-Jouet Champagnes, Barton & Guestier wines, Brancott Vineyards from New Zealand and Sandeman Ports and Sherries; and is the largest importer of classified Bordeaux in the United States. The portfolio is completed by Dominus in the Napa Valley, a collection of Burgundy estate-bottled wines, F.E. Trimbach wines from Alsace, San Telmo of Argentina, Castello d'Albola in Chianti, and several other European wines and spirits.