April 2008 Archives

It's hard to believe that the Meritage Association is celebrating its 20th anniversary. For those of you who are either new to wine or unfamiliar with wine nomenclature, Meritage is the term used to describe wines blended in the classic Bordeaux tradition. It is an invented term combining the words “merit” and “heritage” and was selected by a group of vintnClick to visit the Meritage Associationers 20 years ago (my father being one of them) as a way of categorizing these wines in the U.S. You may wonder why we ever needed a name? Well, the government requires that anything made with less than 75% of a single varietal be called simply, TABLE WINE. Not the most glamorous of names and very restricting for winemakers who want to stretch the limits of blending. Many said it would never fly. But here we are 20 years later with over 200 members in the Meritage Association, and scores of others making Meritage blends under their own proprietary name. And while the term is not necessarily a household word, it is a widely accepted acronym for high quality handcrafted blends made from the traditional Bordeaux varieties.

In observance of the 20th anniversary, a number of us founding members staged a tasting spanning three decades for selected members of the wine media. It was an interesting assortment of wines, as well as producers. Dry Creek Vineyard, St. Supery, Cosentino, and Franciscan were represented as well as newcomer, Casa Nuestra. We all had one thing in common: the overall philosophy that wines blended from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, or Malbec (for a red blend) or Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Sauvignon Vert (for a white) can be combined to make an outstanding and memorable blend. Sound like a bunch of marketing mumbo jumbo? Wrong.

I had the oldest wine, pouring our first vintage, the 1985 Meritage. I also brought the 1994 vintage, as well as our newest blend, the 2004 Mariner.

The '94s were across the board, full of life and absolutely delicious. Every single one of them was complex and rich and proof that a great vintage combined with artful blending can be exquisite. I can't wait to try them again in another 10 years. My 1985 vintage was still elegant and supple with subtle tones of cherry, rose petal, and rosemary. It is going through the “Porcelana” stage—still beautiful but showing some age spots. So if you happen to have a bottle, I'd crack it open and toast the 20th anniversary of Meritage. The 2004 Mariner was a showstopper with years of aging potential ahead.  No botox needed for this one!

Anyway, it was fun to participate and even more fun to meet the lively group of characters who attended. Check out Wall St. Journal writer, Julia Flynn Siler's blog at www.juliaflynnsiler.com/blog, to learn more about her impressions of this historic tasting.

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We have a Board of Directors meeting coming up in a few days. These are quarterly gatherings to evaluate the winery's state of the union under the leadership of Wilma and The Husband. The Big Daddy presides as Chairman and we have 4 non-family members who serve as directors. Each has a specific area of expertise from finance to vineyards, winemaking, etc.  I always feel a bit vulnerable at these meetings even though our board is a terrific group and offers an abundance of support and wisdom to help us navigate this mothership. Nonetheless, it's kind of like putting yourself under a powerful microscope when a privately owned company puts together a formal board of directors. Ghosts don't stay hidden in the closet for long, that's for sure! Frankly it takes a lot of chutzpah and a lot of vintners are so full of themselves they just can't bear the thought. But this is exactly what I'd recommend to anyone working in a family business. It's really the best way to stay objective and professional as well as benefit from the experience and insights of people who care deeply about your business. Besides, board members generally see you in real life terms, not as the trouble maker kid who didn't eat her vegetables or the college drop out who didn't live up to mom and dad's expectations. (Neither of which applies in my case!)

I'm expecting some peacock and wolf action (see blog post, The Dreaded Family Meeting) and have promised myself to take a deep breath and laugh if this occurs. Otherwise, I'm sure it will be business as usual… a look at first quarter sales, a discussion of the 2008 budget, and an update on the overall direction of the company in this wacky world of wine. And, since it's an afternoon meeting, we might even finish with a glass of wine.

All in favor say “I”. 

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There's been a slight shift in our cellar that deserves a mention. Lisa Bishop Forbes has been named head winemaker for Dry Creek VineClick photo to enlarge!yard. This passionate woman has been quietly working side by side mentor Bill Knuttel, handcrafting our wines to the most exacting and discriminating standards. (Yes, we are very picky-uney around here!)  Lisa has worked with Bill for over 13 years, first at Chalk Hill and for the last five, right here. Before that she was head enologist over at Joseph Phelps--not a bad ditty to have on her rap sheet either.

Lisa's soft spoken studious ways are refreshing. She's one of those people who gets the job done without a lot of self-puffery or fanfare. A rock star winemaker who doesn't need to remind us she is. A perfect combination in my book and a bit rare these days. I'm excited about this transition-both for Lisa and for Bill, who will continue on as our consultant several days a week.

One might wonder, why all these people? Do you really need that much winemaking expertise? Isn't one winemaker enough, for god's sake? NO WAY man. In today's wine world, we can leave no stone unturned when it comes to quality. So, while we aren't as glitzy or as glamorous as some (no fancy castle with gold guilded faucets and a Michelin chef) we're as world class as it gets when it comes to maximizing our fruit potential and making mouthwatering wines that leave people begging for more.

So, congratulations Lisa-- you go girl!

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The other day my father and I drove through the Napa Valley together. We were headed to yet another wine industry financial conference for some pearls of wisdom. (It occurred to me that we could probably write the book on the subject ourselves!)

I really can't recall the last time we were in the car together in Napa…it had to be years. As we meandered along Hwy. 29, awestruck by the beautiful mustard that colored the vine rows, Dad would occasionally point to properties that he had looked at buying all those years ago. One was near the old Ehlers Lane Winery, just before Charles Krug Winery.  Another was at the southern end of the valley, just before the town of Yountville. It had some gnarly old vines and a beautiful Victorian home. “I looked at that place, but didn't want to be 50 ft. off the highway. Figured that someday if the place ever got discovered, it might become a problem" Dad remarked.  I then asked him what it cost back then. “Gee, I don't know, it just seemed awfully expensive. Probably $3500-$4500 an acre.” We both chuckled.

It made me wonder how things would have been different had we started up over there. What would we be known for? What would it have been like to grow up in the Napa Valley? How would our wines be perceived today? One thing's for sure, we probably would be charging 3 times the price. And, while it's sad but true…we probably wouldn't be going to wine industry financial symposiums for pearls of advice.
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Hiatus: h?-'?-tes, n, an interruption in time or continuity; a period when something (as in a program or activity) is suspended or interrupted.

Just the thing that Wilma needs to keep on bloggin! Yep, that's right folks; I'm taking a bit of a break. It's time to rest the tired fingers, quiet the mind, and turn off the computer for some much needed R&R.

So this blog will go “still” until my return on Friday April 11.

That's all for now folks……………………………


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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from April 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

March 2008 is the previous archive.

May 2008 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


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Honorable Mentions

Wilma Hits The World of Blogs
Most Intriguing New Wine Blogs of 2008
Midwest Wine Guy
Winery of the Month
Julia Flynn Siler
Meritage wines - and a fascinating glimpse into family business
Winery Web Site Report
New Winery Blog: Wilma's Wine World
Start Up Ladies
Insider's View of Family Owned Dry Creek Vineyard
The Glue that Keeps the Whole Thing Going
Atlanta Dish
Blog of the Week
Blind Muscat
The Merits of Meritage
Boston Wine Expo exhibitors, and the reason why winemakers are so darn happy