Sonoma County region
Meeker Vineyards unveils new Gold Medal Cabernet
Perhaps only those who religiously read the various monthly wine magazines each month will fully appreciate our enthusiasm in featuring a selection from one of the best small California wineries, Meeker Vineyards. While producing just 3–6,000 cases each year since releasing their first wines in 1985, The Meeker Vineyard has established itself as a solid performer in the ever crowded Sonoma County wine scene. Their reputation has been built primarily on the strength of their red wines, most notably, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Not only are we fortunate to be able to bring you an excellent example of one of their Gold Medal winning Cabernet Sauvignons, Gold Medal Wine Club is proud to have secured this Meeker Vineyard wine as an Exclusive Offering to members only. You will not find this wonderful wine anywhere else except through the Club. Needless to say, with a total production of just 540 cases, its availability is extremely limited.
Winery owner Charlie Meeker and his wife Molly were simply looking for a northern California hideaway. In the mid to late 1970s they began to scout various parts of California in search of an acre or two of land where they could spend time on the weekends away from the crowds of Los Angeles. Through Charlie’s law practice, he happened to have a few friends in the wine business. On a whim, acquaintance Jerry Lambert, of Lambert Bridge Winery, mentioned a 98-acre parcel in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley that had just come up for sale. The property consisted mostly of prune trees but also had a few acres of Zinfandel vines. The location was prime and the price was good, too good for Charlie to pass up. Suddenly the Meekers were Sonoma county farmers.
When Charlie bought the property he knew that someday he would build a winery there. “It just didn’t make sense not to have a winery,” Charlie told us. “It was just a matter of having the time to do it,” he added.
He purchased the property in 1977. The next six years he sold off the prune and grape harvests to other operations in the area. At the same time he increased the vineyard plantings to 40 acres, a mix of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
During those years Charlie attended dozens of classes at the University of California in Davis learning the winemaking craft. He made increasing amounts of wine each year with grapes from his crop and experimented with different methods he had learned in the classroom. By 1983 he had completed the equivalent of almost two years of graduate work in viticulture and enology.
A winery which Charlie designed himself was erected on the property in 1984. The preparation was over. It was time to get busy. That same year the newly built Meeker winery crushed its first grapes. The result was a modest 3,000 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Chardonnay. The 1984 Zinfandel, not released until 1986, ended up as one of the most awarded Zins in the country that year. Not bad for the first time out! The Meeker Chardonnay wines garnered early success too, scoring consistently in the 90s in the major wine publication ratings. The Cabernets joined in winning top medals at the major judgings.
As much as Charlie wanted to continue making wine and spend time at his new winery, the demands of his busy law practice in Los Angeles denied him that opportunity. Several years into his second career as a winemaker, he knew he had to hand the day-to-day reins over to someone else. That someone else was winemaker Mike Loykasek. Mike hailed from another small winery called Arciero, near Paso Robles on California’s Central Coast. Since joining the Meeker Vineyard in 1990, Mike has almost single-handedly elevated the small winery to star status. “We were fortunate early on to have such phenomenal success with our Zinfandels,” says Mike. “It made my job a little easier and definitely established our reputation,” he noted.
All of the wines at Meeker Vineyard are made using a basket press, a rarity in the winemaking business today. “It definitely makes a difference in the quality of the wine,” insists Mike. Basket presses have been used in Europe for centuries. The method is slower but gentler and more controllable particularly with the small batches of wine Meeker produces. Other high quality producers such as Opus 1 and Diamond Creek use basket presses also.
The Meeker Vineyard strategy is to put even greater emphasis on their red wine production. By virtue of their early reputation for producing superior Zinfandels, it has become the winery’s flagship varietal. “We’ll continue to source more Zinfandel from the Dry Creek area and increase overall production of that varietal,” revealed Mike. They currently bottle 2 different Zinfandels—a “Gold Leaf Cuveé” that is made from 100% Dry Creek Zinfandel grapes; and a “Sonoma County” Zinfandel made from a number of hand-picked Sonoma County vineyards.
“We’re just as proud of our Cabernet Sauvignons,” Mike points out. “The Scharf Vineyard Cabernet we bottle has all the characteristics of a great Bordeaux,” he adds. Aged in French Oak for 20 months, the Scharf Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon featured this month is a classic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
All of the grapes for this wine come from the tiny Scharf Vineyard just down the road from the Meeker Vineyard. Owner Steve Scharf is a good friend of Charlie’s from a Los Angeles law firm where they both once worked. Steve and his wife used to visit Charlie and Molly at their winery and eventually got hooked on the wine business. The Scharfs ended up buying the 6-acre vineyard and bottled their own Cabernet Sauvignon at the Meeker facilities under the “Everest” label. Realizing they had little time to devote to selling the finished product, the Scharfs agreed instead to sell all of their fruit to the Meeker operation.
“I wanted to make wine from the Scharf Vineyard for years,” Mike says. “We’re ecstatic over the results of our first bottling with the designated Scharf Vineyard label,” he reveals. The wine caught Gold Medal Wine Club's eye when in the only competition entered, it won a Gold Medal. “We knew it was a good wine when we entered it [into the competition] in 1993. It’s now at least 50% better than when it won the Gold Medal because of the extra time in the bottle,” he adds.
The Meeker Vineyard is also releasing a Merlot this year for the first time. Petite Sirah, Syrah and Sangiovese are on the wish list too, certain to further strengthen the winery’s reputation for great red wine.
You will undoubtedly hear about (and hopefully drink) more Meeker wines as they continue to excel in making great wine. The odds of finding their wine in the marketplace may increase as they boost production a few thousand cases over the next few years. Meanwhile enjoy a taste of the Meeker Vineyard now through our Exclusive Offering.
Charlie Meeker - Proprietor
Anyone who knows Charlie Meeker will tell you he’s a producer. Not just a producer of fine wines but a movie producer too. As former head of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios, he was responsible for the production of many major motion pictures in the early 1990s. Prior to that he co-owned Feldman/Meeker Productions with partner Ed Feldman. In the late 1980s the pair was involved with such notable movies as Witness, with Harrison Ford, The Golden Child, with Eddie Murphy, and Wired, the story of the late John Belushi.
‘I had not planned on being in the wine business or entertainment business,” claims Charlie Meeker. Even though his father ran a 4,300 seat civic light opera theater in Dallas while Charlie was growing up, he attended the University of Texas to study law. ‘If I had planned to be in the entertainment field, I would have stayed in Dallas!” he quips.
Charlie specialized in corporate law and upon graduating had the honor of serving as a clerk for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. He joined a Los Angeles law firm in 1968 where he developed a successful career over a span of 16 years.
While he was practicing law during the mid 1970s, Charlie’s second career began to emerge, that of a winemaker. His dad loved wine and instilled in Charlie an appreciation for fine wine while he was growing up. But except for the simple enjoyment of drinking good wine, Charlie never really thought much about it. That is until a sign in a Los Angeles storefront caught his eye—”Buy your grapes now!” it read. Intrigued, he bought a home wine-making kit in the store and tried his hand at making wine. Years later a friend of his came across an opportunity to acquire a ton of surplus Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from a grower in Sonoma County. His friend talked him into hauling the grapes back to the garage of Charlie’s Beverly Hills condo where they crushed and fermented them in large plastic trash cans! ‘The whole complex was complaining about the smell, wondering what the heck we were doing!” he recalls, laughing.
Even after that episode, Charlie had no serious thought of getting into the wine business. A couple of years later while looking for a getaway vacation spot away from Los Angeles, friend and winery owner, Jerry Lambert, showed him several properties in Sonoma County. The ‘weekend getaway spot” he ended up buying is the 98 acre property that is now the home of The Meeker Vineyard and Winery. ‘The moment I bought the property I wanted to build a winery there,” recalled Charlie.
When Charlie bought the Sonoma property, he was still practicing law in Los Angeles. He had begun to do work for entertainment client Filmways, which was producing many popular TV shows at the time. As his reputation spread within the industry he gained more and more clients, and gradually focused his practice solely on entertainment law. In 1984 he took advantage of an opportunity to start his own movie production business with Ed Feldman. In 1991 he was pegged to head up studio giant MGM, then left in 1993 to form yet another production company called Silver Lion Films.
With his latest venture taking the lion’s share of his time (pardon the pun) Charlie still manages time to confer regularly with Meeker Vineyard General Manager and Winemaker, Mike Loykasek. ‘I have no desire for Meeker Vineyards to be a big winery,” he says. ‘We just want to make small amounts of the best wine we possibly can and hope that people enjoy it,” he says modestly.