With family roots dating back to the Mission days, when California was still “Alta California” under the Spanish crown, the Merrill Family is rightfully appreciative of their heritage on the Central Coast.
Eight generations ago Spain granted large parcels of California land to its citizens for the cultivation of crops and the raising of livestock. This included the Merrills’ ancestors, whose rancho was established in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County. Since the Merrill family came to the Golden State, California has been property of three different nations – Spain, Mexico and America.
Forward approximately two hundred and fifty years to find the family behind Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery in the Paso Robles AVA, where wine holds a special place at the table, paired with their heirloom recipes. These regionally rooted recipes express the cultural and ethnic influences through the generations.
Pomar Junction owner Dana Merrill remembers eating his mother Elenita Merrill’s albondigas soup as a child growing up in the Santa Ynez Valley, especially when he wasn’t feeling well. “We ate sopa de albondigas much the same way other families use chicken noodle soup – as comfort food.” The savory broth created from meatballs of fresh-ground beef, mint and garlic simmering for an hour speaks to the simplicity and frugality of early Californian cookery. “The recipe comes from a time when farmers and their families knew the value of each and every ingredient,” Merrill said. “Nothing went to waste.”
“Our estate wines are made to be food-friendly,” said General Manager and eight-generation Central Coast farmer Matt Merrill. “Like the dishes and wines of the Old World, the meals that we’ve eaten since childhood blend seamlessly with Pomar Junction Wines because they were born out of the same place and family experience.”
These days, the Merrill’s ninth generation is represented by three-year-old Ethan Merrill, who loves the historic sopa de albondigas just as those who have gone before him. He can often be found slurping delicious meatballs at the table while the rest of the family enjoys the soup with Pomar Junction’s 2010 Brooster Red Blend.
Elenita Merrill’s Sopa de Albondigas
- 2 lbs. ground round
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 family-size cans tomato sauce (or equivalent of homemade tomato sauce)
- 4 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
- 4-5 sprigs of mint
- 4-5 qts. water (approx.)
- 4 tsp salt, or to taste
- In a six-quart kettle combine tomato sauce and water to make 5 qts liquid. Add garlic, mint and salt and bring to a rolling boil.
- While liquid is heating, mix ground round, egg and 1 tsp of salt very well. With hands, fashion meat mixture into small balls. Add to boiling liquid. Turn down heat to medium, being sure that liquid continues to boil or meatballs will disintegrate. Cook 45 minutes before serving. Two or three tablespoons of rice may be added if desired.
Dana and his brother Kevin Merrill (who works for the family’s sister company, Mesa Vineyard Management) have fond memories of devouring steaming bowls of split pea soup at a popular eatery in the Santa Ynez Valley. Their mother, Elenita, took it upon herself to recreate the dish at home, and it quickly became a family favorite. “I remember Mom would make blueberry muffins to go along with this soup,” said Kevin. “Great on a cold winter day, either for lunch or dinner.” Pairs well with Pomar Junction’s 2010 Viognier
Merrill Family Split Pea Soup
- 4c. split peas (1 lrg. Pkg.)
- 4 qts. Water
- 4-6 carrots, sliced thin
- 4-6 celery stalks & leaves, cut small
- 1 1/2 lrg. onions, sliced thin
- 2 lrg cloves of garlic cut fine
- 4 tsp. salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- 2 bay leaves
Simmer approximately 45 minutes adding small amounts of butter to keep from boiling over.
Put through sieve. Stir well. Reheat, adding small amount of water if too thick.