René and Laurence grew up in the same small town near Geneva, Switzerland, but somehow never met until Laurence’s brother introduced them at the Merryvale tasting room in St. Helena.
When her brother became René’s roommate, the two continued their conversation every time Laurence called her brother at the house. Within a few months Laurence was talking longer to René than she was to her brother; within a year, she was making plans to join René in Napa Valley.
René left his native Switzerland to attend college and play Division I tennis at Trinity University in Texas. After graduation, he worked in Germany several years before returning to America for graduate school at the Thunderbird School of Global Management. By the time he completed his Master’s degree, his father Jack had become a partner in Merryvale Vineyards, so René decided to move to California and experience a taste of the wine business. He took a job in the Merryvale cellars and worked his way up to learn every aspect of the business, from winemaking and hospitality to wholesale distribution. He spent many years managing winery sales, and in 2008, he took the helm as CEO.
“You can never rest on your laurels,” says René. His drive and clear-headed leadership have guided the family business through several forward-looking initiatives for the 21st Century, paving the way for a sustainable future that honors the traditions of the past.
Laurence is a sixth-generation vintner who began blind tasting with her father Marco Grognuz at the age of 14.
Every night at dinner, Marco would bring out a decanter of something new for the family to discover and explore together. Because winemaking in Switzerland was still a career path largely reserved for men, however, Laurence studied finance and accounting in college and began her career in those industries. When she and René became a couple, Laurence took a leap of faith and followed him to Napa Valley with limited English, but unbounded curiosity and determination. After just a few years, she had mastered both English and Spanish, completed an Associate’s Degree in winemaking and viticulture, earned certifications in tasting room management and sports nutrition, and established deep new roots in her adopted home.
Today, Laurence is actively involved in the St. Helena community, volunteering at her children’s schools and supporting local charities. She also lends her creative élan and vision to almost every aspect of the family business, from blending wine to social media.
In addition to lifelong passions for skiing, tennis and fine wine, René and Laurence share a commitment to hard work, honesty and integrity. Their family and estate were built upon these core values, and the legacy will one day be passed to the next generation — René and Laurence’s three daughters.
Ask René’s father Jack Schlatter about his days selling cotton in Hong Kong or tasting coffee in Brazil, and he will quickly steer the conversation back to his favorite passion: great wine. Jack is a self-made man who spent most of his life working hard in industries that held no particular excitement for him. At a certain point, he decided to shift gears and invest in a business he actually loved. A real estate deal introduced him to Bill Harlan and the other Merryvale founders, and Jack saw his opportunity.
He joined the Merryvale founders as a partner in 1991, building the winery’s international presence with the import/export connections he had established with his cotton business. A few years later in 1996, Jack and his family became the sole owners of the winery, and the Schlatters began to create a true family estate. Twenty years later, the Profile Estate Vineyard and Stanly Ranch Estate Vineyard are a testament to Jack’s passion and tireless commitment to quality.
Though his son now handles CEO duties, Jack is still very much involved in the family business, offering counsel and support wherever needed. He lives in Vevey, Switzerland with his wife, Lilo.
Growing up in the Sonoran Desert, wine and winemaking weren’t part of Merryvale Winemaker Andrew Wright’s early life. A chance encounter with the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York on a post-college road trip awakened him, however, and with a healthy appetite he devoured volumes of wine literature and the wines they described, expanding his palate and shaping his philosophies.
Andrew began his winemaking career planting vines in the high desert outside of Sonoita, Arizona. These early experiences in frontier winemaking forged a deep appreciation for hard work, experimentation, and winemaking with intention.
Since moving to Napa Valley in 2012, Andrew has worked in the vineyards and cellars of Harlan and BOND Estates, Promontory and The Napa Valley Reserve, as well as for Fruition Sciences and their clients (which included Merryvale at the time). In talking about his experience, Andrew notes, “Napa’s incredible soil and climate diversity are unique in the world—with unparalleled growing conditions we have the opportunity to craft wines of depth and density while retaining balance and freshness. I am eager to explore all the winemaking possibilities the diverse terroir of Merryvale provides.”
As Winemaker, Andrew is in charge of production at the St. Helena winery. He oversees all winemaking operations for Merryvale wines. Andrew deeply believes that winemaking is the synthesis of philosophy, agriculture, science, and art. He illustrates, “Merryvale’s Profile Estate Vineyard is one of exceptional terroir. The differences in soil type, vine orientation and hillside exposure combine to produce wines of great power, complexity, and elegance. Every growing season we expand our understanding of our vineyards while further refining the winemaking processes in the cellar, resulting in world class wines that reflect a unique sense of place and attention to detail.”
Andrew graduated with a History degree from the University of Arizona before studying Winemaking at UC Davis. He lives with his family in St. Helena, and when not making wine, he enjoys cooking, hiking, and attempting to play the guitar.