Northside SF  

October '09

Wine Report from the Fort
Ga-ga over Ventana, praised pinks and favorite Cabernets

By Fred McMillin

“Ventana is by a wide margin the most celebrated vineyard in Arroyo Seco.”
                                                              – B.T. in The Wine Atlas of California

The most award-winning single vineyard in America
Who created this celebrated vineyard? Well, he was a Navy jet pilot with a degree in econometrics from the University of Washington. Returning to civilian life at his family’s Washington apple orchards, Doug Meador stopped to manage the planting of 2,500 acres of vines on uncleared land for friends in the Salinas Valley. Suddenly the light dawned.

“Walking into the 1970 Salinas wine industry was a culture shock. Agricultural methods used in grape cultivation hadn’t entered the 20th century,” said Meader. Convinced he could do much better, he planted a 300-acre “research” vineyard in 1972, the Ventana Vineyards. His half million vines were subject to experiments such as positioning shoots to vary sun exposure, varying stock spacing to see if more crowding produced more quality, and changing trellises to improve ripening. It worked. Meader’s first commercial harvest in 1977 sold to local wineries, won Chardonnay and Riesling gold medals.

But Meader needed to make his own wines to better evaluate the experiments, so he built Ventana Vineyards Winery in 1978 … in a leaky, 1900s dairy barn. With his laboratory completed, let’s take look at what he did with Sauvignon Blanc.

“Using the existing area clone, I could get nothing but asparagus juice. But have you ever tasted an asparagus Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc? Never,” said Meader.

So what happened to the Blanc after it arrived in Livermore a century ago? Meader’s study showed clones were selected not for flavor, but for disease resistance and high yields. So, he developed a Ventura Sauvignon Blanc clone. How successful was it? In 1986 he entered it in all-American wine competitions and won a medal in every event but one. His white Riesling and Chardonnay have continued to medal for many years.
Taste for yourself, and visit the Ventana Vineyards tasting room in Monterey (831-372-7415) or Soledad (831-372-7415);,

Pinks get no ink: Update
Several vintages ago, we discussed that pink wines get little praise in the press – that is, pinks get no ink. However, they still dominate supermarket sales, according to my latest market report. Northside San Francisco reader Christine F. asks which are the most popular in our S.F. City College (Fort Mason Campus) classes. Here they are with the highest scoring pink listed last:

•5th: Magenta Rosé Forest Glen Winery California 2007, $8
•4th: Dry Rosé of Zinfandel Pedroncelli Vineyards Dry Creek Valley 2008, $10
•3rd: Pinot Noir Rosé Kenwood Vineyards Russian River Valley 2008, $13
•2nd: Rosé of Syrah Peju Province Winery Napa Valley 2007, $25
•1st: Vin Gris de Cigare Bonny Doon Vineyards California 2008, $15

Not all Cabs are created equal
What is the highest-scoring varietal in my S.F. City College (Fort Mason) classes? No, it’s not Chardonnay – it’s Cabernet Sauvignon. And here are the recent best:
• Bogle Vineyards California 2007, $11
• Fetzer Vineyards California 2008, $12
• Sauvignon Lake Sonoma Winery Alexander Valley 2006, $24
• Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Creek Valley 2006, $25
• Steele Winery Red Hills Lake County 2005, $26
• Peju Province Napa Valley 2005, $45
• Corison Winery Napa Valley 2005, $70

Politics in Napa Valley
Northside S.F. reader Dr. L. Kaminsky asked, “How is Nancy Pelosi connected with the wine industry?”

According to, Pelosi owns Zinfandel Lane Vineyard and Shellenger Lane Vineyard, both in Napa Valley. She does not produce wines but sells the grapes to other California winemakers.

Postscript – This reminds me of Will Rogers when he said: “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”

And a final wine smile
Reviewer commenting on the little-known Austrian wine grape Gumpoldskirchner: “Not a name that will launch a thousand cases.”

Credits: Edgar Vogt (tastings); Ophie Mercado (statistics)

Fred McMillin has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents and was voted one of the 22 best wine writers in America by Academy of Wine Communications. E-mail:; fax: 415-567-4468

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