by Fred McMillin
for June 12, 1998

Winery of the Week

Death of a Vineyard


"I was devastated...sure that there was no way to salvage this once great Syrah vineyard and its rich history."

...Chuck Ortman, Winemaker,
Meridian Vineyards, Paso Robles, Ca.

The Rest of the Story

The dreaded phylloxera (fill-LOX-er-uh) insect had traveled down from northern California, to destroy the vineyard that critic Bob Thompson said produced the benchmark Syrah of the region. The loss of great grapes was particularly bad for Chuck Ortman, because that's what he emphasizes: "My winemaking philosophy has always been to let the fruit come through--to not over-make the wine."

His friend and neighbor, Gary Eberle, had planted the vines in 1973. Wasn't there some way they could perpetuate them? Well, it would be a huge task but they could take cuttings from the surviving vines, grow them in a nursery, tear out the old rootstock, plant phylloxera-resistant stock, and graft those nursery vines back onto the new wood. The entire vineyard was replaced. Chuck has just released the first vintage made from the grafted vines. Clearly, he still is making a "benchmark" Syrah, the 1996 Meridian Vineyards, 100% Syrah...rich fruit, easy on the tannins...$14.

Other Wines

Sauvignon Blanc - Out in the vineyard again, Chuck had the trellis direction changed to increase sun exposure and improve grape flavors. For details see the Dec. 8, 1997 WineDay article, "A Bargain Blanc."
Chardonnay—The Ortman flagship. Top-notch.
Cabernet Sauvignon—First place at the California State Fair. For more about Chuck's 30-year love affair with grapes that led to these outstanding wines, see the Aug. 1, 1997 WineDay, "Ortman's Flight Plan." He moved south from the Napa Valley long before phylloxera did. 


Why is the root-eating phylloxera so devastating? It's because they don't believe in family planning. In less than one year, the descendants of one female will amount to one BILLION bugs. (Wine Spectator)

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.


WineDay Annex

More articles by
Fred McMillin

Welcome to WineDay, the electronic Gourmet Guide's daily update. Monday through Thursday, WineDay presents a wine profile. Then on Fridays we present the Winery of the Week to take you through the weekend.

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