Meyer Family Cellars

Meyer Family Cellars: An inviting oasis on Hwy 128

Wine Notes by Heidi Cusick Dickerson

Around one of the bends on curvy Highway 128 between Yorkville and Boonville an inviting oasis appears. Located on the riverbank between the Mendocino Coast and Highway 101 Meyer Family Cellars is a refreshing wayside stop (especially with kids who are in need of a terrific play structure).

The home and winery of Matt and Karen Meyer and their two daughters is also a destination. The driveway is lined with blooming plants, many natives. A trellis covered picnic area with that pint sized redwood gym is next to a vineyard. And the cool tasting room with rust colored walls and a smooth hand crafted bar is the place to taste Meyer’s wines. They make Syrah from Yorkville Highland grapes, Zinfandel Port and an exclusive Cabernet Sauvignon grown by Matt’s mother in Napa Valley.

It’s possible that Matt and Karen Meyers could have chosen different livelihoods. But maybe not. Matt is the son of Bonny and the late Justin Meyer, cofounders of the esteemed Silver Oak Cellars in Napa Valley. Karen is the daughter of wine shop proprietors in Perth, Australia.

About 10 years ago, after growing up in separate hemispheres, Karen’s and Matt’s paths converged. Today their lifestyle in the wine world includes the next generation with Sidney, almost three and Dana, eight months.

When I stop by the beautiful redwood winery built in 1993, they are getting ready to bottle their 2007 Syrah. Matt, in shorts and wine splotched t-shirt, hooks up hoses to pump wine through the filter into holding tanks next to the bottling line. Karen, trim and lively, comes into the winery with Sidney, who has been finger painting and adding her own splotches to her t-shirt.

“I grew up working in vineyards,” says Matt. He and his two siblings were raised outside of Oakville in Napa Valley. Through his teen years he spent summers working in the vineyard, tasting room and cellar at Silver Oak. He went to Washington to college, had a stint in Australia and finished at Lewis and Clark with a degree in Biology and Chemistry. He focused on viticulture. “I’ve liked gardening since I was a kid,” he says..

Karen’s experience with wine began early in Australia. “My parent’s wine shop exposed me to nice wines at a young age,” she says. Her first job was working in a winery. She then got an enology degree at Charles Sturt University in New South Wales. It is common for budding Aussie winemakers to cross to the northern hemisphere “racking up harvests in the US and Europe.”

Karen met Matt at Argyle Winery in Oregon where both were working the harvest. Matt continued his studies and got a masters in horticulture/viticulture at UC Davis. Karen Joined him in California in 2004 and they married in 2006

Matt’s parents started producing Zinfandel Port in 1987 and when they sold their interest in Silver Oak they wanted a winery to make their Port. “They found this place,” says Matt. The Meyers purchased it in 1999 and Matt and Karen moved here five years ago. After selling Silver Oak they also kept one of the vineyards, the one that makes Bonny’s Vineyard Cabernet, which has a loyal following and sells out on its release date every year.

With Matt and Karen at the helm, the Meyers make 1000 cases of Port, wine fortified with spirits. “There are different ways to get to Port,” explains Matt. One method is to pick the grapes at a very high sugar level around 35 degrees Brix. Most table wine grapes are picked in the early 20 to mid-20s degrees Brix. Brix is the ratio of sugar to water and easily measured by portable refractometers. To do the measurement in the vineyard the vintner or grower picks some grapes and crushes them into a container, then takes the measurement. Wineries that make Port with a high sugar or Brix level then ferment the grapes until fermentation is complete and then add brandy to give it an alcohol level between 17 and 24 percent. “It’s a popular way to make Port,” says Matt.

But Meyer makes Port another way. They pick the grapes between 23 and 24 degrees Brix. “We add brandy half way through the fermentation,” he says. To a ton of grapes they typically add around 30 gallons of brandy from Mendocino County’s Jepson or Germain-Robin. Different lots are made primarily from old vine grapes grown in Mendocino County every year and then blended together. “By the time it’s in the tasting room,” says Matt, our Port is an average of eight to nine years old.” He explains that it takes time for the fruit flavors and alcohol settle down and incorporate to produce a jammy smooth mouthful, which gets better with more age. The alcohol in Meyer’s Port is around 18 percent.

In addition to Port, Syrah is the passion of these young winemakers. Syrah is a popular varietal in Australia where it is known as Shiraz. Matt spent time at Adelaide University in Australia knowing he wanted to go into the wine business. His dad told him to look at places that grow good Cabernet but “I was drawn to Syrah,” he smiles.

When he returned to California to attend UC Davis, Matt discovered Yorkville. The days get hot but not as hot as Cloverdale, thirty miles away. The coastal influence is felt every day when the wind kicks up and cools everything down for the night. “It’s 15 degrees cooler here at night than in Healdsburg,” he says. “Syrah has a tendency to shrivel and cook if they get too hot and can’t cool down,” he explains. The Meyers buy all their Syrah grapes from Yorkville vineyards including Summer Wind, Volmer and Route 128.

Meyer Syrah is sold in 25 states which takes Matt on the road four or five times a year. They make 2000 cases now with plans to grow to 5000. Locally Meyer Syrah is available at SIP! Mendocino and Harvest Market. The Syrah and Port are bottled in dark green bottles. The label features a lion inspired by Luxembourg’s coat of arms in honor of the Meyers’ great grandfather who was born there. Matt’s mom designed the dancing lion wearing a crown which is embossed on the bottle.

Matt is the “vineyard guy” and Karen is officially the winemaker, “but we don’t have titles,” says Karen. “We both do everything.” In addition Yorkville resident Jay Newcomer manages the property and JoAnn Aronson is the tasting room manager. Sales manager Tony Poer sells the wine across the country. Matt is also president of the Yorkville Highlands Association. Meyer is the venue for the popular Yorkville Highlands Festival on August 29 this year.

When I leave, Matt, holds Dana, who is getting ready for dinner. Karen and Sidney join them in front of the trellised front door of the tasting room. A car drives up and Sidney anticipates the promise of a new playmate. “Sidney loves to play with the kids when their parents stop at the tasting room,” says Matt.

This SUV jam, packed with camping gear, brings only a couple who jump out, ready for a break in from the twisty Highway 128. The Meyers invite them in to have a sampling of their hospitality and their Yorkville Syrah and Port.

TASTING NOTES: Ripe luscious aromas of berries with a hint of pepper and cocoa in a glass of Meyer Family Cellars 2004 Syrah continue in the mouthful of flavor of. Its full flavor develops if opened an hour or so before dinner and was a perfect complement with sauteed elk medallions and garlic mashed potatoes.

For more information on Meyer Family Cellars contact the Mendocino County Winegrape and Wine Commission at www.truemendocinowine.com or www.meyerfamilycellars.com.

Heidi Cusick Dickerson writes Wine Notes on behalf of the Mendocino County Winegrape and Wine Commission.

Next Week: Yorkville Highlands Festival

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