Mead On Wine
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© 1998 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved


by Jerry D. Mead

Been a while since you've seen a Ventana Vineyards wines on the shelf? There is good reason. Doug Meador, owner/grower/vintner, sometimes crazy man and always a fanatic about what he believes to be right, believes in things like paying his bills and honoring commitments to his grape customers.

Meador claims (and no one has challenged him yet) that Ventana is the medal-winningest vineyard in the world. Note the key word "vineyard." In the past several years Ventana the winery has made relatively little wine.

A quarter of a century ago, Meador, a former fighter pilot and Washington apple grower, became a Monterey grape grower. This was back in the days when Monterey was new, the wines had a miserable reputation (they were often described as having the "veggies," smelling and tasting like grass, asparagus and alfalfa) and lots of folks thought the region would never yield great wine.

Meador was convinced that changes in growing practices in the vineyards could affect the end result...the taste of the wine. As a result, Ventana became one of the largest "experimental" vineyards anywhere. Vineyard practices that are now fashionable throughout the world, had folks calling Meador crazy (and that was one of the nicer terms) 25 years ago.

Ventana the winery was initially as much about demonstrating the quality of Ventana grapes to other wineries as anything else. While wine production in the 80s became significant, Ventana was still primarily a vineyard operation and selling grapes to others was still the main business.

Then several things happened at about the same time. Meador went through a costly (aren't they all) divorce at about the same time that his long term vineyard experiments had truly proved themselves and he was in the midst of planting or replanting a half million vines, and his major creditor became shortsighted all of sudden.

By taking even the few grapes he was selling to his own winery, lots of hard work and a convenient wine boom and resultant shortage of premium grapes in recent years, Meador has worked his way out of the financial mire and has Ventana ready for the 21st century.

And with the major viticultural project complete, Ventana will be able to take more grapes for its own winery once again, while still honoring longstanding commitments to the collection of mostly small vintners who have been loyal customers. So for the first time in several years there is some serious quantity of Ventana wines available, with significant growth in production planned for the next five years at least.

And one thing you can count on when buying a Ventana wine...every grape that went into it came from Ventana's estate vineyards. Ventana buys no grapes, nor any bulk wine, to stretch its premium coastal fruit.

Distribution is being expanded daily, but if you have trouble locating Ventana wines call the winery directly for nearest retail outlet at (800) 237-8846.

Ventana 1997 Sauvignon Blanc ($10) Classic varietal character of grapefruit and lemon grass. Lean, totally dry and very food compatible. A "Best Buy." Rating: 90/90

Ventana 1997 Dry Riesling ($8) Almost bone dry, but with lots of aromatic, appley fruit with stone fruit overtones. Dry enough for food, but not so austere it can't be served at cocktail time. Rating: 89/89

Ventana 1997 Riesling ($8) At two percent residual sugar, this version has noticeable but not cloying sweetness. Riper flavors of peach, kumquat and peach skin make it a very pleasant summer sipper and also a dandy companion to picnics or Asian dining. Rating: 88/88

Ventana 1997 Dry Chenin Blanc ($8) "Dry" is a relative term, and this wine does have threshold sweetness. Big melon fruit with a hint of Persian melon perfume. One of the two or three best in the state, in a league with Chappellet and a few others. Drink it poolside or with spicy Asian cuisines. Rating: 92/90

Ventana 1996 Merlot ($14) Big, ripe boysenberry more than traditional Merlot cherry flavors. Youthful character, but very round and supple mouthfeel. It's tremendous fruit makes a great entry level wine for folks just discovering red wine. Rating: 88/86

Ventana 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon ($12) Berry and green olive aromas and flavors. Though youthful, this is very serious red wine with great aging potential...a decade or more. It is classic Cabernet in every regard, aroma, flavors and with already developing very long after-flavors. Great value! Rating: 90/95

Ventana 1997 Orange Muscat ($10) This exotic variety smells more like orange blossoms than orange blossoms do! Overt fruitiness but with a basically dry perception due to very crisp acidity, even though there is nearly two percent residual sugar. Rating: 88/88


Ventana 1997 "Monterey" Gewurztraminer ($10) One of Ventana's medal winningest varieties, mostly in the hands of other vintners. Thomas Fogarty Winery, for example, has a string of medals for wines made from these grapes going back a decade or more. New plantings now yield enough fruit for Ventana to get some of its own Gewurz! Very spicy aromatics lead into grapefruit and lichee flavors and a hint of sweetness at 1.5 residual sugar. Just a touch of spritzy carbonation for a lively and refreshing mouthfeel. Don't miss this one. Rating: 94/94


We've just received a small supply of the official awards books from both the San Diego National and the National Orange Show wine competitions. Both books contain complete results, competition formats, a list of judges and more and both are priced at $5. Order from: Wine Winners, Box 1598, Carson City, NV 89702 (800) 845-9463, and make sure to indicate which book(s) you're ordering.

Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.

© 1998 JDM Enterprises. All Rights Reserved
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