All the latest news, events, & wine notes
As most of you know, my business desk has been located in our winery’s Geyserville tasting room since 2014. The Sonoma County grape harvest generally begins in late August and continues into early November, with activity peaking during late September and early October. I particularly enjoy these peak harvesting periods as experienced by looking out our tasting room’s front window onto Geyserville Avenue— and also by listening. But what I see and hear from my desk is quite different than what most people might imagine when contemplating the joys of grape harvest! While Geyserville is surrounded by vineyards, there are no vineyards visible from our tasting room. Just buildings along Geyserville Avenue and the junction with Highway 128.
So what do we see and hear during peak harvest periods? Lots and lots of flatbed trucks, or more often trucks with their own flatbed plus hauling a second flatbed as a trailer, all carrying aluminum grape harvest bins, each bin capable of carrying up to two tons of grapes. Most of these bins are empty in the morning hours, so in addition to seeing these bin-carrying trucks drive by, we hear loud BOOMS coming from the bins as, within their tie-downs, they bounce on the flatbeds. BOOM!, BOOM!, BOOM! But this changes in the afternoon, when most of the bins are full of grapes. The booms are gone, but are replaced by very loud engine sounds as each truck struggles to haul the massive weight of as many as twelve aluminum bins filled with grapes. Also, interspersed among these flatbed trucks, there are tractors driving by, as well as large automated grape picking machines.
Ahhh, these harvest sights and sounds are music to my ears!
In closing, I would like to share with my Tribe friends my sadness regarding the recent passing of my friend Burt Reynolds. I served as Burt’s motion picture industry attorney for many years when I was practicing law in Los Angeles during the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Burt was not only a great actor; he was also a very fine person! One of my favorite memories of Burt occurred on a spring afternoon when Burt was shooting a motion picture on the Paramount Pictures lot. I had just picked up my ten-year-old daughter Michelle from her grade school. But I also needed to get Burt to sign several copies of the completed contract for his next motion picture, so rather than taking Michelle directly home, I drove with her to the motor home on the Paramount lot that the motion picture company was supplying to Burt for his personal use while the film was being shot. I left Michelle in my car, and walked up to the motor home door and knocked. Burt answered and I entered for a short meeting with Burt to summarize the completed contract. He then signed the contract copies, and I shook hands with him and walked to the trailer door. He followed me to the door, and as I walked down the steps outside the door, Burt asked: Who is that person in your car?” I replied that she was my daughter whom I had just picked up from school. Without saying another word, Burt followed me down the steps, walked to the car and opened the front passenger side door. He first put out his hand and shook Michelle’s hand. Then he leaned inside the car and kissed Michelle on the cheek. We and he waved at each other as we drove away. Michelle had a huge smile on her face for a very long time.
Harvest is always an exciting, emotional, tense, and rewarding time of year for our family. This year it is even more so: my wife, Erika, and I welcomed our son to the world on July 31st, just 18 days before we received our first fruit of the year. His name is Canyon Rutherford Meeker (he shares a middle name and initials with my dad), and he was 8 lbs 15 oz and 21”. I’ll spare you the details, but Erika was in labor for 62 hours before delivering via Cesarean section. We’re all happy, healthy, and…tired.
So you can understand why I’ll keep this newsletter short. Please enjoy these pictures of the newest Meeker, and I’ll share a full update on this year’s harvest in our next installment. A quick preview: yields are up, but so is hangtime (rule of thumb: more time on vine = better grapes). Quality seems to range from slightly above average to excellent, and the quality on Merlot and Zinfandel seems particularly high. The Dry Creek Valley Merlot we received had some of the darkest color at the juice stage I’ve ever seen—of any variety!
We’re anticipating a very busy first week of October, with approximately a quarter of our total tonnage for the year to be picked and processed in a few days. Luckily, our harvest crew this year has a very positive attitude. Ricardo, our Cellar Master, is in his 18th harvest season with us. He’s joined by Kat, who spent harvest 2013 and 2017 with us and stayed on as Cellar Assistant; Stephanie, a Chilean who has multiple harvests under her belt at bigger wineries on both sides of the equator; and Matt, who is the son of wine club members and is pursuing a Wine Business MBA at Sonoma State. They’ve been an excellent team so far, especially through a few very long days, and the wines are already reflecting the consistency and care of their work.
I’m very fond of the two wines we’re sending you in this shipment. The Handprint needs no introduction, but I do think this is one of the better vintages of the past decade. The second wine, our first release in about 20 years of a wine from the Scharf Family Vineyard, is very special to our family and the history of our winery. The Scharfs are friends of our family since the ‘70s, and Kelly and I grew up with their daughters. Their vineyard produced the first vintages of Four Kings in the ‘90s, including the venerable 1995 vintage, which was one of the best wines we’ve ever made. The 2015 vintage was the first time I got to work with the fruit, and it was a pretty special experience for me. Block 1 of the vineyard is older than I am, and I have fond memories of running around and playing among those vines as a young kid. The fruit and wine from this vineyard is special in quality and character, but incredibly special to our family in tradition and sentiment.
I hope this newsletter and these wines find you happy, healthy, and enjoying the beginning of autumn. As always, when you’re in town our door is open to you, and I’m always available by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Temperatures are rising, bunches are forming on the vine, and we’re getting organized for harvest! Before the long hours and crazy days set in, we want to invite you to join us here at the winery for our upcoming Summer Cellar-bration.
We will be serving some great wines from our cellar paired with seasonal hors d’oeuvres and great company. We’d love to see you here!
Here are all the details:
Date: Saturday, August 4, 2018
Time: 1:30 – 5:30 pm
Location: Meeker Winery (5 Fitch St, Suite B, Healdsburg 95448)
All Tribe members are invited, and you’re welcome to bring two guests (no charge).
Non-Tribe members are welcome too; your cost to attend: $20/person.
We’re so excited to share that our 2014 Hoskins Vineyard Grenache earned a 90% rating from the Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
Grenache is a lovely, light- to medium-bodied varietal, and it’s quickly becoming one of our best selling wines. We get our Grenache from Harold Hoskins’ vineyard in Dry Creek Valley. This dark ruby-colored wine has hints of berry, earth, and herbal tones. It’s perfect for before dinner porch-sitting, or really anytime you’re looking for something crisp and refreshing.
Stop by the tasting room anytime to try it! Or just order some online.
Learn more about our winemaking philosophy, and winery story in the Wine For Normal People podcast. Head winemaker Lucas Meeker shared his thoughts in their latest episode. Don’t miss it!
Hi there, Tribe members! Your Tribe shipments are on their way, and we know you’re looking for the Meeker February Tribe Newsletter. Click the link to read tasting notes, Lucas’s stories about how these wines were made, and much more.
We are thrilled to announce that our wines won eight medals at the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. We are incredibly proud not only to be recognized—but to have the breadth and variety of our wines recognized.
We love making all kinds of wines, creating new, innovative blends, and adding our spin to classic varietals. It’s wonderful that folks are enjoying and appreciating what we do.
Here’s the rundown on our medal haul:
2013 Four Kings Bordeaux Blend, Dry Creek Valley $62
2014 Hoskins Ranch Vineyard Grenache, Dry Creek Valley $38
2014 Syrah, Dry Creek Valley $40
2014 Cabernet Franc, Dry Creek Valley $45
2015 Hone #1 Sakura Blend, Dry Creek Valley $42
2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley $48
2014 Winemaker’s Handprint Merlot, Sonoma County $45
2014 “The Paddle” Blend, Dry Creek Valley $42
Interested in trying one or all of these wines? Stop by the tasting room, buy them online, or give us a call if you have questions.
In our last newsletter I wrote about the adventure and magic that we enjoy as winemakers. I also briefly described it as a privilege. I used that word because it implies a sense of honor—an opportunity so good that it demands excellence—but also a sense of luck—appreciating the opportunity and feeling gratitude for having it. Now, between Thanksgiving and the New Year and after the rush of harvest and the devastating wildfires that ripped across our community 60 days ago, I appreciate the privilege to make wine in Sonoma County more than ever.
We were lucky. Everyone we know is safe. None of our family or employees or my closest friends lost their homes. We sustained no damage to the tasting room or winery. My wife and I hosted families and pets who evacuated to our house in Petaluma and eventually all returned to their homes. But from the morning after the fires started and for the next 10 days at least, every conversation started with “Are you okay? Is your family safe? Did everyone in your circle come out okay?” Far too many people I know were not as lucky as we were. Many of my friends or their parents lost their homes.
One friend woke to fire so close that she didn’t even grab her wedding ring off of her nightstand—she and her husband grabbed their kids and dog and ran out the door. Luckily they were safe.
Many of our customers were affected. One Tribe member reached out to us, sharing that he lost his house and his cellar including Meeker wines going back to the 1995 vintage (we were grateful to help him replace some of his favorites).
The fires left behind many more stories like these. For many folks here in wine country, things will never be the same. But as I drive through the burn scar in my daily commute, now that we’ve had a few rains, the hills are slowly turning from black and brown to green as new grass grows through the char.
It’s hard to talk about something positive in the context of such tragedy, but the immediate outpouring of support and care and love—both locally and from afar—left me awestruck, impressed, and proud. We continue to do our best to contribute to the recovery effort, and we thank and appreciate those of you that have helped as well. More help will be needed, and if you’d like advice on where to direct your contributions, Kelly wrote a blog post on our website that details the best ways to donate.
On to a lighter subject: I’m happy to report that regardless of the fires, this year’s wines look to be off to a strong start. It’s always hard to summarize the characteristics of a vintage when we make so many different wines, but on balance our 2017 wines benefited from longer hang time to the tune of 10-15 days and substantially more consistent ripeness across vineyard blocks. Yields were either about average or down 10-30%, depending on the vineyard. Quality overall was above average, with some stellar picks mixed in, particularly from Dry Creek.
There were some interesting quirks to the vintage as well (and as always): We had a few instances of weather that led to extended pauses in ripening—one brief rain and cool phase saw some vineyards drop 1-2 degrees Brix. In most years over the past decade we’re usually dealing with fruit that has plenty of sugar but lacking phenolic ripeness and physical berry maturity. This year, especially with Cab and Merlot, we found ourselves happy with phenolic ripeness and acidity on a couple occasions but waiting on sugar. A nice change of pace, to be honest, because ripening patterns like this play to the favor of our winemaking style.
Turning to this shipment, we’re sending you a nice pairing of something old and something new. The “old” would be the library vintage of Four Kings. Normally this shipment would feature a 2014 Four Kings blend. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the wines (all four “Kings”) from the 2014 vintage to assemble a Four Kings blend from this vintage. Instead of skipping Four Kings in your shipment (which we feared might lead to a small Tribal uprising), we are sending you one from the library. We want to be sure to let you know that we sent this at the normal Four Kings retail price (before your discount), as opposed to the Library price. As you’ve probably heard before, one of our main winemaking goals is to build wines that age well and continue to evolve for 10-20 years. We also know that the majority of wine drinkers don’t wait that long (you’re thirsty, I get it). So, when we have an opportunity to send you a wine from the library, especially a perennial favorite like Four Kings, we take it: it lets us show off how beautifully our wines age.
The something “new” in this shipment is the new packaging on the 2015 Grenache. This is the same Grenache release you’ve gotten used to in your November shipment, but the first time you’ve seen the updated version of what we refer to as the “M-Bar” packaging. The M-Bar package concept hadn’t been updated since I first designed it in 2009 (or somewhere around there), and it had fallen out of line with the packaging on our other wines. After a few attempts over the past year, we finally came to a consensus on this new look. It blends elements of the old M-Bar concept and colors with the spartan spacing and lettering of our more recent labels (the Cab Franc, Paddle, Pinot Noir, DCV Cab Sauv label group which we call the “New-Old” labels (admittedly, our in-house naming of these things could use some polish)). I’m happy with it, but I’d love to hear feedback from all of you as well.
As we move into the holiday season and prepare for the new year (and our 41st year in the Sonoma County wine business), I’d like to thank you for continuing to support our family business and the employees, growers, vendors, and community that make it possible. We are fortunate and grateful to be part of the ongoing adventure of making wine and we are blessed to have you along for the ride. From all of us—Molly, Charlie, Kelly, Ricardo, Jeff, Janelle, Kat, our families, and me—we wish you and yours a bright and merry holiday season as well as our highest hopes for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2018.
The terrible fires that burned in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties this past October were a great tragedy. In Sonoma County alone, the wildfires destroyed 6,600 structures, including 5,130 homes, and killed at least 23 people, according to data released by Cal Fire in early November. Our hearts go out to all the people who suffered losses from these wine country fires, as well as to the people in Southern California who are suffering from out-of-control wildfires as I write this.
I want to report to our Tribe, however, that our winery and tasting room escaped fire damage, as did Molly’s and my home, as well as Lucas’ and Erika’s home. Our tasting room in Geyserville was in a recommended evacuation zone, and we closed it for a week, but since then it’s been back on a normal operating schedule. I also want to report that Austin and Remy (Molly’s and my dogs) and Ennis (Erika’s and Lucas’ dog) are as happy and fun as ever.
During the fires there was a great deal of speculation about the possibility of smoke tainting the grapes. So far as we know, however, this did not develop into a significant problem. Virtually all of our wine grapes had been harvested before the fires, and the very small amount of grapes harvested after the fires did not suffer from smoke taint.
I can also report positive news that, in general, the Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino wine industries did not suffer significant physical damage from the fires. There are more than 1,000 wineries operating in these three counties. To my knowledge, only eleven of those wineries were destroyed by the fires, and an even smaller number of wineries suffered some fire damage, but are still able to operate.
And while the fires did burn around the edges of some vineyards, they did not generally attack entire vineyards. Indeed, in a number of instances, vineyards served as fire breaks. Most of the vineyards are as glorious to view as ever.
There has, however, been an intangible negative effect from the fires. Since the fires, the number of wine lovers traveling to visit our wineries and tasting rooms (as well as our local hotels, restaurants, etc.) is significantly reduced. We ask, therefore, that you help us spread the word that, while the October fires were devastating in many ways, they did not have a major negative effect on our North Coast wine industry. The great majority of our wineries, restaurants, hotels, etc. are operating in a perfectly normal manner. Please come visit!
All of us at The Meeker Vineyard wish you and yours Happy Holidays and a wonderful New Year!
Sometimes the world offers you a saga you weren’t anticipating. It doesn’t come all at once, and you have to be aware of the pieces as they arrive, but when they do, it is magic. About ten years ago, when Molly and Charlie were travelling by car around the U.S. selling wine, they drove through Nebraska along the Platte River just after the huge migration of sandhill cranes came through. The cranes stop along the river to glean the nearby harvested fields in the early spring on their way north to their various nesting grounds. There’s not much else in the area tourist-wise and Molly spent a great deal of time for an entire day reading aloud to Charlie about the birds as he drove. They became obsessed with seeing them. There is a small museum of the sandhill crane just off the freeway, which they visited (worth a stop; it involves locally crocheted and painted cranes). The docent pointed toward the boardwalk out back that led to a viewing area along the river bank and behold! There were no cranes along the river bank.
These are big birds – about the size of a great blue heron – all gray and with a bright red head cap. Despite the docent’s assurances, and the guide book’s fulsome descriptions, Charlie and Molly saw nada, zero, zilch. It was depressing after the buildup – and, let’s face it, that stretch of Nebraska is pretty stark. It didn’t seem like much to ask to see a big bird or two, when just days before, there had been thousands. As they drove off, they thought they might have seen a couple in one of the fields along the interstate but they couldn’t be sure. And there the story ended, or so Molly thought.
Cut to eight years later, Molly is in Wisconsin in late June selling wine and visiting friends. As they walked along a mowed hay field one day, Molly saw, in the distance, a tall bird she thought was a heron. Her friend assured her that, no, that was a sandhill crane, and that they nested throughout the area in the hedgerows alongside fields like the one they were watching. Fortunately, Molly had borrowed binoculars that day and, for the first time, saw a sandhill crane! Actually, two, a breeding pair. Finally! It was like seeing an old friend. And there the story ended, or so Molly thought.
Cut to last September, when Charlie and Molly were visiting Kelly and Ty in Bozeman, Montana. One afternoon, Kelly drove them from Bozeman to the Roosevelt Gate in Yellowstone National Park and on to the Mammoth Hot Springs. They saw lots of wonderful animals that day – including bighorn sheep, a bald eagle, a huge, 12-point bull elk (would you look at that!) and his harem just outside the park buildings at the hot springs – and, magically, on the way home, several sandhill cranes in a field along the highway, grazing as they got ready to fly back south for the winter.
The saga of the sandhill crane may not seem like a big deal but it taught Molly something: Eventually, everything we invest in – no matter how trivial or for what bizarre reason – returns the favor.