by Fred McMillin
for August 1, 1997

Winery of the Week

Ortman's Flight Plan


  • 1969—Chuck Ortman starts making wine in the Napa Valley, working and/or consulting at Heitz, Far Niente, Shafer, Cain Cellars, etc. However, he sees great potential, but few job opportunities, in the cool coastal regions to the south in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

  • 1984—Ortman founds the Meridian Winery using Napa grapes.

  • 1988—Hooray. The Nestle company decides to make a huge investment down south and hires Chuck as chief winemaker. They buy the Estrella River Winery in Paso Robles and change the name to Meridian.
The Rest of the Story: Chuck was like a kid in a candy store. He could pick and choose grapes from an array of microclimates beyond his wildest dreams. You see, the winery was named Meridian VINEYARDS, and with good reason. They owned over 3,000 acres, 2,400 of Chardonnay alone. Ortman was already known as a Chardonnay master, so he soon put Meridian on the map with that grape. However, he's been actively working on the reds, too. Matching the best clones to the most favorable microclimates, reducing yields to raise quality, etc., is working...for example, in 1992 his Cab won a first at the California State Fair. My tasters have been impressed by the Syrah and Pinot Noir.

Just the Facts

Name Meridian Vineyards
Location Paso Robles, CA
Founded 1984; Reorganized 1988.
Owners Beringer Wine Estates (Nestle sold to them)
Winemaker   Since the beginning, Chuck Ortman
Capacity Over 100,000 cases a year
Contact Tor Kenward, phone (707) 963-7115

Postscript: If you want to judge your Meridian wine like the pros, order the Beringer aroma-flavor wheels. There's one for white, another for red, complete with tasting instructions...only $3 for the two. My students love 'em. Contact Manager of Sensory Research, Jane Robichaud, phone (707) 963-7115, fax (707) 963-1735.

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 eGGsf

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