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A Tribute To Frank McGinnis

SKMBT_C36014051309150_0021I would like to tell you about a very special man who served as our vineyard manager for many years, and who also, with no prior winemaking experience, served as a very effective Assistant Winemaker when we established our winery in 1984.  I think you’ll enjoy the story.  But first, some background info.

As many of you know, Molly and I bought our first vineyard during February 1977.  It was on West Dry Creek Road in Sonoma County, and the real estate broker who handled the transaction was Americo (“Am”) Rafanelli.  Am was also then the owner/winemaker of A. Rafanelli Winery in Dry Creek Valley.  Am and his wife Mary became our good friends for many years thereafter.  They were wonderful people.

At Am’s suggestion, we hired Jim Guadagni as our first vineyard manager.  At that point Jim was in his 60’s and had spent his life living and farming in Dry Creek Valley.  Part of our new vineyard was steep hillside with an elevation gain of 380 feet just within our property, and we planted most of that hillside in the years following our purchase.  One of my favorite memories of Jim was watching him drive our track-layer tractor pulling a big disc across that hillside.  Even though he was driving the tractor across the hillside, it was so steep that, in order to keep the tractor from sliding downhill, Jim had to point the tractor as much uphill as across.  Jim may have been in his 60’s, but doing that scary kind of tractor driving didn’t seem to bother him at all.

About a year into Jim’s work with us, he introduced me to Frank McGinnis, his son-in-law, who had recently settled in Dry Creek Valley.  Jim explained that Frank had recently retired from many, many years of service in the U.S. Navy, where during the Vietnam War he had served as a Chief Bosun’s Mate on a U.S. aircraft carrier off Vietnam, with hundreds of sailors reporting to him. And, of course, Jim soon thereafter suggested that I hire Frank to help him manage our vineyard. Frank started working with us right away, and after Jim’s retirement became our sole vineyard manager.

Frank was very likeable, quite smart, good at listening to instructions, and always ready with intelligent questions.  He worked well with other people, and I never knew him to exchange unpleasant words with any of our vineyard employees or other workers.  Above all, he was a man who enjoyed doing hard and successful work.

We built our first winery during the summer of 1984, and even though Molly and I lived and had full time jobs in Los Angeles, I also served as the winery’s only Winemaker until 1991, when an exciting new job in Los Angeles (I became President of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) imposed some limitations on my frequent visits to our winery.  From the beginning of the winery I knew I needed help, but I didn’t want to hire another winemaker. That’s when Frank became our winery’s first Assistant Winemaker.

Frank had no prior education or experience involving winemaking, but as mentioned above, he was a quick learner.  We worked together closely, and he diligently followed our winemaking protocols when I was stuck in Los Angeles. The fact that Frank did a great job in both our vineyard and our winery is evidenced by the facts that the 1985 Meeker Zinfandel was a Wine Spectator “Best Buy”, the 1986 Zinfandel was a “Spectator Selection”, and the 1990 Zinfandel was included among the Wine Spectator’s “100 Best Wines of the World”.

When I look back on our years of collaboration in the vineyard and winery, one memory of Frank always brings a smile to my face.  During summer 1985, one of my best personal friends in Los Angeles came to visit along with his then-girlfriend.  When I was showing them around, my friend noticed our tractor, which was parked on a dirt tractor path in a flat portion of our vineyard.  He pointed toward to flat path ahead of the tractor, and said, “Later could I try driving the tractor a little bit?”  I replied, “Sure, but be careful.”  Later that day, I excused myself to drive into Healdsburg to pick something up.  When I returned, Frank was waiting for me at the top of the driveway.  “Your friend started the tractor,” he said.  “Told me you said it was okay.  After testing it on the path it was on, his girlfriend joined him on the tractor seat, and they steered it around to the front vineyard.”  [This was the steep hillside mentioned above with respect to Jim.]  Frank continued:  “They drove it about 30 yards up the steepest part of the hillside, then lost control, and both jumped off the tractor, which then started rolling backwards into the vineyard.  It tore down the trellis wires for five vineyard rows, and then was finally stopped by a sixth trellis.  I had to rescue the tractor.”  Frank stepped forward, put his arm around my shoulders, and with a stern look on his face, stated:  “Charlie, a tractor is not a toy.”  That was not the least of his good advice to me over the years!

Frank brought much wisdom, kindness, and warmth to his work, and he was instrumental to the early years of our business.  He left us with lots of wonderful memories.  Thank you, Frank!

Nature Report: Dry Creek Valley Coyote & Chicken Auxiliary

austinremyAnother chapter in the annals of the DCVC&CA (the Dry Creek Valley Coyote &Chicken Auxiliary; successor to the Dry Creek Valley Skunk & Newspaper Patrol).  Austin, the Goldendoodle, and Remy, the Maltese, are the sole and founding members of the DCVC&CA.  Molly is the recording secretary and chief mess officer.

Until recently, Molly believed that Remy was too small (5 pounds, 8 ounces and 4 inches at the shoulder) to walk or hike with Austin.  She even bought one of those dorky chest packs to carry her on their hikes around Lake Sonoma.  The last few months, however, have been a revelation.  Remy is solid muscle, spring loaded, and determined to match Austin stride for stride.  Except, of course, it doesn’t work that way.  One stride for Austin is five for Remy, and when he trots, she’s trot/cantering to keep up.

Take, for example, their latest walk in Healdsburg.  Molly and Austin walked 2.35 miles.  Remy did about 3.00.  Remy not only takes five times as many steps as Austin, she is compelled to investigate every driveway, door path and hedge along the way.  She launches herself up whatever the sidetrack is, feet touching down about five feet in, and scrambles almost to the length of her extend-a-leash, sniffing madly, then returns to Austin’s side just before the leash reaches its limit and tugs her. And when the leash tugs Remy, she goes flying.  Zero resistance.  So, we have Molly and Austin more or less sedately, but briskly, booking up the sidewalk in more or less a straight line, and Remy braiding a trail around them when she’s not inadvertently flying through the air at the end of her retractable leash.  This is all before they encounter other dogs.

Once again on their latest walk in Healdsburg, a perfectly nice man with a Rottweiler puppy on a leash approached the DCVC&CA on the sidewalk.  From a distance of about 30 feet, he said, “This one’s friendly, how about yours?”  Molly replied, “The big guy’s fine, but it’s the little one that will mess with him.”  Sure enough, Remy charged the 80-pound puppy with zero fear and/or good sense, yapping madly, and attempting to bite his ankles.  Molly applied the brake on the retractable leash and Remy did a mid-air 180 turn.  Meanwhile, the Rottweiler was grinning and trying to say hi, and nearly ripping the nice man’s arm off.   They parted ways with difficulty, but with smiles.

Remy has, therefore, earned her bones, so to speak, and on the next Lake Sonoma hike, she will walk, not ride.

Sunday, April 23, it happened – Remy walked, nay, trotted, the 4.5 miles around Lake Sonoma.  She outlasted Austin!  In fact, when he needed a second rest stop (after the traditional halfway liedown in the shade with water), she walked in circles around him, as if to say, “Why are we stopping here?”  True to her nature on the street walks, she accosted every other dog, including two huskies and a pit bull cross, on the trail.  She may be tiny but she’s nobody’s wuss.  A very strong, very outspoken, fearless young lady.  And isn’t that nice?

The Latest Meeker Wine News

meeker-wine-tradeWe’ve got lots of exciting updates for y’all, so let’s get right into it.

Update #1: Specials on ZinGre and Chardonnay

When the weather starts to heat up, we love to serve a chilled, crisp white or rosé. And we can’t recommend better options than our 2014 Chardonnay or our 2016 ZinGre Rosé.

Our Chardonnay is crisp, fresh, and balanced—and our ZinGre (a blend of Zinfandel and Grenache) is a dry, refreshing rosé made in the style of a vin gris.

We’re offering these perfect spring wines with some fresh discounts:

2016 ZinGre (Regular price: $25)
3 bottle: $20.00/bottle – 20% off
6 bottle: $18.75/bottle – 25% off
12 bottle: $17.50/bottle – 30% off

2014 Dry Creek Chardonnay (Regular price: $28)
3 bottle: $22.40/bottle – 20% off
6 bottle: $21.00/bottle – 25% off
12 bottle: $19.60/bottle – 30% off

Attention Tribe Members! If you order before May 1st, we can include these wines with your April Tribe shipment to be announced later this month.

Mix and match any of these wines to complete a 6 pack and receive 50% off shipping, or buy a 12 pack and we’ll include the shipping costs in the price. (This shipping offer is only available on standard FedEx Ground rates and excludes AK & HI.) This special is available through May 15, 2017.

Interested? Call or email the tasting room: 707-431-2148 or tastingroom@meekerwine.com.

Update #2: New Distributors in Wisconsin and the Carolinas

We’re also excited to announce that we have two new distributors: Legacy Brands in Wisconsin and Grapevine in the Carolinas! They’ll be helping us get our wines in restaurants and shops in these lovely states. And if you live there, be sure to let your favorite spots know where they can order Meeker wines.

Update #3: Miscellany

A few more things:

  • Molly’s headed to the midwest: Molly will be traveling to Ohio in May and to Wisconsin and Michigan in June. We’ll update you as soon as we have her schedule confirmed!
  • New faces in the tasting room: Allie Dahl is our new tasting room associate. Say hi next time you’re in the tasting room! She’ll be ready to pour you a taste of your favorites.
  • Kind words from Ken’s Wine Guide: We’re blushing about these lovely reviews of our wines from Ken’s Wine Guide. See what Ken has to say about our Handprint Merlot, Pinot Noir, and FroZin.

Medals from the San Francisco Chronicle International Wine Competition + 91 Points from Wine Enthusiast

LJM_0831It feels pretty good to come home from a wine competition with some medals around your neck. And by neck, I mean neck of a wine bottle.

We’re so excited to share that we recently won three medals at the San Francisco Chronicle International Wine Competition. This major annual competition is judged by wine experts from all over the world, and we are just beaming about these results:

  • Gold medal – 2013 Dry Creek Valley Syrah
  • Silver medal – 2013 Dry Creek Valley Grenache, Hoskins Vineyard
  • Bronze medal – 2013 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Franc

You can check out all the competition results here if you’re interested.

We’re so proud of these three wines, too. Our Syrah is a rich, berry-vanilla-earth blend that goes perfectly with summer dinners and berry cobbler. And if you’re looking for a perfect dinner for cocktail hour as the sun sets on a perfect warm day—you’ll love the Grenache, served slightly chilled.

And our Cab Franc is a full-bodied, quiet giant-mineral-black cherry enigma that will age beautifully for years to come. Need more proof that this wine kicks ass? Check out the 91 point rating it earned this month in Wine Enthusiast.

Of course, you can taste these wines any time in our tasting room or buy them from our website. Questions about them? Call (707-431-2148) or email (tastingroom@meekerwine.com) the tasting room anytime.

 

Join in the Conversation About Meeker Wine on #winestudio

IMG_6418If you love talking about wine—especially Meeker wine—we have just the event for you. On March 7 and March 14, the Meekers will be talking wine, winemaking, and more with Tina Morey and a group of sommeliers, bloggers on #winestudio, a live Twitter chat.

At 6 pm PT/ 9 pm EST on both nights, Lucas Meeker, Kelly Meeker, and Jeff Shaeffer will join host Tina Morey for a discussion of Meeker wines. Here’s what’s on the wine list:

  • Tuesday, March 7: Grenache (notes) & Cab Franc (notes)
  • Tuesday March 14: 2013 Winemaker’s Handprint Merlot (notes)

So pull up a chair, fire up your Twitter account, pour yourself a glass of wine, and join the conversation. We’ll look forward to talking with you!

Just search hashtag #winestudio in Twitter or click this link to see all the conversation. Ask questions, share your thoughts, and join in! Just make sure to include the hashtag, #winestudio, in every tweet.

Not sure how to use Twitter? No worries! We have just the how-to video for you. Check out this (slightly outdated but still informative) “Twitter for Beginners” video by Kelly Meeker on YouTube.

Fall Harvest Report from Charlie Meeker

Harvest 2016Dear Tribe:

We had our annual Tribe party at the winery yesterday, and it was another wonderful event.  In the course of the party, a number of Tribe members asked me what I thought about the quality of this year’s vintage.  We’re still in the midst of harvest with five grape varieties yet to be picked, so it’s too early to be definitive, but here’s how I responded to the questions at the party.

Spring-type weather came early this year in Sonoma County.  The buds on many grapevine varieties were pushing out in February, which is at least a month early.  In my experience, this can be a very good thing — at least so long as it is not followed by hard frost!  We did not get such a post-bud-break frost this year, and the spring weather continued generally cooler than normal.  As a result, the grapes had a longer-than-normal “hang time” going into summer.  In the opinion of many winemakers, longer hang time is beneficial because the grapevine roots have an extended opportunity to pump desirable favor elements into the grapevines and, most importantly, into the grape clusters.  So by the end of spring this year, Lucas and I were optimistic that we were headed for a high-quality vintage.

But then things changed even more!  If during July of this year you had asked us when we expected harvest to begin for the red varieties that we use to make our “big reds”, we would have replied that we expected harvest to be well underway by the second half of August, and finished by mid-September.  But then our weather took another positive winemaking turn.  All of August was quite a bit cooler than normal.  Indeed, it was the coolest August in Sonoma County I’ve ever experienced since Molly and I bought our first Dry Creek Valley vineyard in February 1977.  This cool weather further extended the hang time of the grapes this year.  Rather than having the “big reds” harvest starting in mid August (as we had predicted during July), they were delayed for approximately another month.  At our winery we did not begin crushing grapes for our red wines until mid-September, and we don’t expect to be finished with harvest until mid October.

As a result of these unusual factors, the grape hang times this year have been much, much longer than normal, and we are optimistic that this will result in a vintage of very high quality red wines.  We should know more about this by early next year when the grapes have finished fermentation and the resulting wines have had a few months to settle down in the barrels.  We’ll keep you informed!

While I have your attention, I would like to report one other fun and tasty development.  Over the years since we began our winery in 1984, we have tried to set aside cases of each of our red wines for our winery library.  In theory, our theoretical goal was to send 20 cases of each wine to the wine library, but until 2014 when we moved the winery to Healdsburg, we never did a good job of keeping track of our wine library.  Then, when we moved, for the first time we did a comprehensive listing of what the library contained, and we realized that in a number of instances fairly large amounts of wine had been put into the library storage area.

We are in the process of tasting many of the library wines, and we plan to offer a number of them for sale to members of the Tribe.  Indeed, we opened several library wines at the party yesterday, and they were very well received.

Last night, after the party, Molly and I went to a Healdsburg restaurant to have dinner with a Tribe couple from outside California who are great friends of ours.  We took along a bottle of 2001 Meeker Four Kings, and it was absolutely fantastic.  Lucas reports that there is an unusually large quantity of this wine in the library, so you will no doubt be hearing more from us in this connection.

Our family sends our very best wishes to you and all of yours for a fantastic fall and holiday season!

Charlie

Limited Time Only: Red Hot Zin Sale

4c5811b5-2ac5-404a-b142-b8f6dcff9dd1It’s the heat of summer and we’re watching the Zin grapes ripening in our backyard. That inspired us to share this red hot, limited time only Zinfandel sale.

Get a great deal on a vertical of our Barrel Select Zinfandel, with two options depending on how thirsty you are:

  • Barrel Select Zinfandel Vertical 6 Pack: Two bottles each of our 2011, 2012, and 2013 Barrel Select Zinfandels.
    Price: $148.20 plus tax & shipping (That’s 35% off retail!)
  • Barrel Select Zinfandel Vertical 12 Pack: Four bottles each of our 2011, 2012, and 2013 Barrel Select Zinfandels.
    Price: $273.60 +tax  (Shipping included. That’s 40% off retail and a huge shipping savings!)

Now we know you’re thinking it might be too hot to ship wine in August! Don’t worry. We’ve thought of that. We’ll hold you order here til September if you like (and we can even combine it with your September Tribe shipment!).

Sale expires August 31 and quantities are limited, so you’ll have to call or email to get in on this sale. Get in touch with Jeff at jeff@meekerwine.com or call 707-431-2148 ASAP.

Good News! Discounts Available for the Tribe at the Dry Creek Inn

2015-06-13 11.20.14-1Looking for a place to stay during your next visit to Sonoma County? The Dry Creek Inn is a convenient, comfortable, and cost-effective option right in Healdsburg–just a short drive from our tasting room!

And now there is now a promo code for Tribe members to use when making their online reservations that offers a 25% discount. Here’s how to get it:

  1. Go to www.drycreekinn.com and enter the dates you’re planning on staying in the reservations field.
  2. Hit “Book Now”.
  3. Go to the edit your search area on the left hand side, open the special rate box, and click Promotional Rate.
  4. Then type in the promo code “winery”, hit OK, and click on search.
  5. The Wine Club discount rate will show under the Winery Friends column and they are good to go.

This rate is offered seven days a week, subject to availability. If you’re having any trouble with online booking, just call the hotel to book directly at (707) 433-0300. Just tell the front desk that you’re a Meeker wine club member and request the wine club discount rate.

We hope this new discount means we’ll see you soon!

How Much Wine Do I Need for My Wedding? And Other Event Planning Tips

LJM_0831We are on the precipice of summer in northern California, and alongside sunburns, barbecues, and bragging about tomatoes from our garden, that means one thing: weddings. A lovely way to spend a summer evening, made even more lovely if the wine is good.

If you’re reading this blog post, that might mean you’re wondering how much wine you need for your upcoming nuptials. At Meeker, after years of working with couples planning their events, we have a tried-and-true formula we’re proud to share. These formulas also work for retirement parties, work events and holiday parties – any time you want to make sure you have the right amount of wine for a special occasion.

Step 1: How Many Drinks Do I Need?

The first step is to figure out how much alcohol your thirsty guests will imbibe overall. The rule of thumb is one drink per person per hour of drink service.

Meeker’s first law of wine dynamics:

# of Drinks Needed = # Guests x Hours of Serving

So, to figure out how much alcohol you will need, you need to know:

  1. What time will you start serving? What time will bar close? This is your “hours of serving”.
  2. How many people are coming? While it’s tempting to deduct children and other non-drinkers, I usually leave them in the count as a safety margin.

Multiply your hours of serving times your number of drinkers. This gets you your total number of drinks needed. For example if you have 100 guests, and will be serving drinks from 5-10 pm, you’ll need at least 500 drinks.

Step 2: How Much Wine Do I Need?

Now we have to figure out how much wine you need. Ask yourself:

  1. What will you serve besides wine in terms of alcohol? Only beer? Cocktails?
  2. Do you have a sense for if your people are wine drinkers vs. beer drinkers?

Typically, we recommend a 60% wine to 40% beer split, but you can customize this depending on your knowledge of your guests (or if you’re serving cocktails).

With our example from above and our standard 60/40 split, we’d advise planning for 300 glasses of wine. We assume 5 glasses of wine per bottle, which brings us to 60 bottles of wine, or, at 12 bottles per case, 5 cases.

Step 3: How Much Red Wine Do I Need?

In our experience, most folks prefer red wine, so we generally advise a ratio of 75% red wine to 25% white wine. The exception to this rule is if you’re going to have a very hot outdoor summer wedding – in this case, more folks might prefer a nicely chilled glass of white.

Other Words of Wisdom

We recommend keeping your wine selection to five wines or fewer, to make it simple for your guests to select a wine and to keep it streamlined for the servers, who may be asked to explain the choices several times over. On the same note, we recommend selecting recognizable varietal wines for the majority of your selections – this makes it easier for your guests to choose something they know they will like. Usually, the focus at a wedding is not on sampling and learning about wine, but on spending time with beloved friends and family. You want to help your guests make a good choice and get back to the celebration.

Step 4: Be Safe

For many, weddings are opportunities to over-indulge in fine wines and free drinks. If you think your guests might be the over-indulging sort, make sure to arrange designated drivers or provide taxis, shuttles, rides, and other transportation alternatives. In the long run, it’s not that hard to get a cab home and pick up your car in the morning. There’s absolutely no excuse for drunk driving, and providing transportation solutions for your guests will ensure that everyone has a safe and fabulous time at your celebration.

In closing, do you need help with wine and food pairing or would you like us to provide a list of suggested wines for your wedding? We’d be happy to, and we offer special discounts for weddings! Get in touch!

Molly’s Nature Report: The Coyote Patrol

austin Alas, the Dry Creek Valley Skunk & Newspaper Patrol (the DCVS & NP) is no more. Its beloved members have passed on to the great dog parks in the sky. We are, however, pleased and a little befuddled to announce the recent formation of the Dry Creek Valley Coyote & Chicken Auxiliary (DCVC & CA). This proud and confused unit is comprised of Molly and Charlie’s two dogs, the ever popular and admired Austin, the Goldendoodle, and Remy, the recently acquired and somewhat irritating Maltese. The function and purpose of the DCVC & CA is twofold:

1) When coyotes pass by the Meekeria (where Molly and Charlie live), usually at night, they yip and howl to each other to communicate things like, “I caught a rabbit,” ” you smell like a skunk,” and “I wouldn’t have your pups even if you were the Alpha male.” These comments are delivered in extremely high, piercing yips and howls that are all way above high “C.” Austin, whose normal conversational bark and yowl are in the manly baritone range, for reasons known only to himself, tries to respond in the soprano range of the coyotes. He stands at the open sliding door of the Meekers’ bedroom and attempts the pure piccolo note of a healthy coyote. It is pathetic. Halfway through a sliding, glass-shattering aria, his voice breaks and he ends in a guttural “ooo” that sounds as though he ate a jalapeno. Remy’s recent participation has been to stand near his rear right leg and offer moral support by not outshining him with her natural ear-piercing yaps and leaning supportively into his ankle.remy

2) Every morning Molly checks on the chickens to make sure they are fed and the water is running.  She also offers freeze-dried meal worms which are a great delicacy for chickens. There are eight hens and two loud, wussy, father-and-son roosters who do not much other than irritate the hens and make a lot of noise in the morning. (They also occasionally make little chickens but nobody wanted that.) Remy, all 3.3 pounds of her, has decided that hen herding is her job. Never mind that the roosters are taller, and that she dresses out at the weight of a decent free-range fryer, she follows Molly into the coop and addresses each bird as an equal. Meanwhile, Austin waits at the coop, ever hopeful for an egg, shell and all.

Stay tuned for more.

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