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by Fred McMillin
for Jaunary 18, 2001

Meador Tasting Room

Meador Tasting Room.


Monterey Pioneer Doug Meador...

  • Makes a Perfect Wine
  • Explains "Terroir"
  • Answers the Historic Rootstock Question

    Making A Perfect Wine

    Prologue—Judge at a major, recent tasting: "This is the first time I have given a wine a perfect 100."

    Let's see how it was made.


    The Steps to the Perfect Wine

    Get a degree in econometrics from the University of Washington.

    Become a Navy fighter pilot.

    Return to civilian life and manage the planting of two thousand five hundred acres of vines on undeveloped land in California's largest winegrowing valley, the Salinas Valley. (1970)

    Bitten by Bacchus, plant your own 300-acre vineyard, dedicated to exploring all manner of variables in grape growing...comparing clones, rootstock spacing, various trellis systems, etc. (1972)

    Then build your own winery, so you can determine for each variety the best yeast, the best type of oak, the best cooper, etc. (1978)

    Now let's fast-forward 20 years to 1998.

    After years of experimentation, Doug Meador is ready to fire four big guns. He's found the optimum small site, and methods, for four varietals. He recently released the resulting first four 1998 Meador Estate Wines. One of them received that perfect 100 score. Was it the Chenin Blanc, the Sauvignon Blanc, the Chardonnay, or the Syrah?

    My panel tasted all four blind. Let's see if they could recognize the "perfect" wine.


    My Panel's Opinions

    Meador Estate "Old Vine" Dry Chenin Blanc... 27-year-old vines...259 cases...$20. The panel gave it an enthusiasic RECOMMENDED.

    Meador Estate "Block 3" Sauvignon Blanc...Doug pioneered the selection of this superior-tasting oak...313 cases...$25. Another RECOMMENDED rating.

    Meador Estate "Block 9" Chardonnay...25-year-old vines...EXCELLENT rating. $40

    Meador Estate "Maverick" Syrah...oldest Syrah vines in Monterey County. The panel gave this one a rare EXCELLENT. YES...THIS IS THE WINE THAT RECEIVED THAT PERFECT 100. $50

    Now, on to another Meador specialty...


    That Troublesome Term "Terroir" (tair-whar)

    Terroir means "soil" or "earth" in French. It has taken on broader meanings (plural) in the winegrowing world. Is it a useful concept? Doug has devoted a lot of time to the matter. Here is my condensation of his work.

    Let's say roughly that it involves not only the soil, but many other physical elements in the vineyard, such as the weather, the drainage, etc. The term evolved in France many years ago during a time of long-term stability. "The practioners were life-long, generations-long people of the soil, focused for eternity on their part and area of the earth—and only that. Many never traveled 20 miles from the place of their birth."

    In such a stable system, there still were differences between the wines from small tracts in the same area. These differences were due totally or partly to diffences in the physical environment. "Terroir" was a useful concept.

    However, today so many variables have been introduced that it is most difficult to identify the constant contributions of "terroir." The effects of fertilizers, choice of rootstock, selection of clones, etc., etc. all may have more potent effects than that of the terroir.

    My conclusion from Doug's wise words: Terroir was a valid concept in France many years ago. As technology has advanced in the vineyard and the winery, it's contributions can rarely be identified with certainty. In the 21st century, "terroir" will be terminated.

    Last, the Meador experiments can help answer a classic question about whether the phylloxera insect reduced the quality of wine throughout the world.


    The Historic Rootstock Question

    The term "rootstock" refers to the woody trunk and root system of the vine. It conducts water and nutrients to the relatively weak, porous vines and their leaves and grapes.

    One may graft any variety onto any feeding system (rootstock) without changing the quality of the grapes for making wine. or is that not true?


    Enter the Insect

    The matter was of little interest until some 130 years ago a little root-eating insect from the northeastern U.S.A. reached Europe and began rapidly destroying the great vineyards of France, and of many other countries in many parts of the world. Now, the native American vines had grown up with the bug, and so were not destroyed by it. Hence, the solution was to graft cuttings from those great French vineyards onto native American rootstock. Many careful tasters felt wine quality was reduced. But the matter was never settled. Doug Meador has been exploring it for 26 years. Most of his vines grow on their own trunks and roots; e.g., that super Syrah was grown on its own roots and trunk, not grafted onto native American rootstock...since the Ventana Vineyards do not have a phylloxera problem.

    LuAnn and Doug Meador

    LuAnn and Doug Meador.

    Doug concludes that the rootstock is not simply a neutral feeding system.

    Examples he cites:

  • He grafted Chardonnay onto Zinfandel roots. The resulting grapes were still Chardonnay, but the clusters were larger and longer, looking much more like Zinfandel clusters. The system down under DID change what's on top!

  • Another rootstock has been found to have difficulty drawing zinc compounds into the nutrients. The result is smaller leaves, which "create substantially different fruit."

    Hence, changing rootstock can change what's up top. But, does growing vines on their own roots produce better wine? We'll conclude with Doug's words. "In some support of the 'own roots' merits, might be the observation that Ventana Vineyards now has more than 20 consecutive years of gold and silver medals on its Chardonnay and Riesling grapes. Other varieties also have long strings of awards. This would tend to support those observers of long ago—something was lost in grafting!"


    Don't Forget LuAnn

    LuAnn Meador has played a major role in her husband's crusade to improve Monterey wines. She's not only vice president of Ventana but president of the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association.

    Contact—Phone (831) 375-0741, FAX (831) 375-0797


    Postscript—The Name Game

    Ventana means "window" in Spanish. We've heard two versions of why the Spanish used the term in the area. One was that American Indian tombs in the hillsides had the appearance of windows. The other was that a break in the coastal hills resembled a window.


    About the Writer

    Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.



    This page created January 2001