by Fred McMillin
for January 23, 1998

Winery of the Week

Entrance to the Ventana Winery

The Meador Uproar


  • A Spanish land grant named after the Arroyo Seco Creek, the triangular wine district contains 30 square miles, some 9,OO0 acres of vineyards, and a unique microclimate ... afternoon cooling summer sea breezes drop temperatures to where Cabernet Sauvignon sometimes is not harvested until the first week of December ... Wine interest in Salinas Valley's Arroyo Seco did not begin until the 1960s when vines were planted by Wente, Mirassou, and Jeckel.

    ...J.J.B., "The Wine Regions of America"

  • Ventana is by a wide margin the most celebrated vineyard in Arroyo Seco.

    ...B.T., "The Wine Atlas of California"

The Rest of the Story: 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 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." 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 positioning shoots to vary sun exposure, varying stock spacing to see if more crowding produced more quality, changing trellises to improve ripening, etc.

It worked. His first commercial harvest in 1977, sold to local wineries, won Chardonnay and Riesling gold medals. But he needed to make his own wines to better evaluate the experiments, so the Ventana Vineyards Winery was built in 1978 ... in a leaky, 1900 dairy barn. With his laboratory completed, let's take as an example 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." So what happened to the Blanc after it arrived in Livermore a century ago? Doug's study showed clones were selected not for flavor, but for disease resistance and high yields. Hence, 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! Similarly his White Riesling has won gold medals for over 15 consecutive vintages and his Chardonnay has medaled for over 18 consecutive vintages. So the next time you see a wine from the Ventana Vineyards, try it. It has been made by the most award-winning single vineyard in America!

Phone   (408) 372-74l5

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the WineDay Annex

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