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Vino V

A Ventura love affair comes full circle for winemaker Michael Meagher

By Lisa Snider

Photo by Gary and Pierre Silva

 

inemaker Michael Meagher has a love of wine that goes back some 25 years. It all started in 1984 while working at Trader Joe's in Ventura, where he met his wife, Anita. Every Friday, their employer had them taste wine. At the time, Michael was pursuing other interests at Ventura College, but the wine steered him in a new direction. "I actually changed majors because of it,” he says. “It seemed like a great way to live.”

Meagher set off to attend U.C. Davis where, in 1990, he received his degree in oenology. Soon he was making wine in the Santa Cruz hills at Mount Eden Vineyards. In 1998 he returned to Ventura County, and in 2000 took a job working for five harvests with Adam Tolmach of The Ojai Vineyard. He developed an appreciation for small lot, high-end, handcrafted wines, but longed to have his own label. "In 2004, I was looking for a place to make my wine," says Meagher, adding, “At some point you just say, ‘I gotta do this.’”

Eventually, he talked to John Whitman of Old Creek Ranch Winery in Ojai, who made him a generous offer to house his operations on the property. The partnership recently led to another opportunity when Whitman’s winemaker retired; Meagher now serves double-duty as Old Creek’s winemaker.

Meagher sources grapes from vineyards in distinct microclimates of Santa Barbara County. His prized Vino V syrah is made from fruit grown in a relatively cool appellation of the northern Santa Ynez Valley.

With few grapes grown in Ventura County, mostly because of the region’s susceptibility to the devastation of Pierce’s disease (which wiped out all of Old Creek’s vines), Meagher started buying chardonnay, syrah, and pinot noir grapes from Santa Barbara County. He soon created the Vino V label—V standing for Ventura. Looking back on his decision, he thinks out loud, “It's the dream you always have."

Today, he is producing some 500 cases a year and his wine is getting noticed, mostly through word of mouth because he doesn’t have a distributor. "It's a real trip with selling wine … I have so much respect for salespeople,” says Meagher. He sells to his private mailing list and upscale restaurants including Brooks in Ventura, Spago in Los Angeles, and Bouchon in Santa Barbara.

Vino V winemaker Michael Meagher pours at an Outstanding in the Field event.

Last fall, Vino V was the featured wine at an Outstanding in the Field event at Earthtrine Farm in Ojai. The highly regarded international event partners foodies with farmers, chefs, and winemakers. Being selected to provide wine to match the food of chef Josh Brown, who runs the kitchens at two of Santa Barbara’s best restaurants—Bouchon and Seagrass—proved that Vino V had arrived.

During the growing season, Meagher makes frequent trips to see how the grapes are faring and talk with the growers. He gets involved and gets his hands dirty. “You have to,” he says. “I’ve really learned that there’s so much you can do in the vineyard that determines what you see in the bottle.”

When it’s time to harvest, it becomes a family affair. "Our vacations are work," he says, recalling a 4 a.m. wakeup call when he, Anita, their nine-year-old son, and five-year-old daughter went to pick grapes.

“Last year, [our son] Jack helped pick this chardonnay,” he says, holding up a bottle made from grapes grown at Solomon Hills Vineyard, a spot he chose because of its cool climate and ideal location in the westernmost part of the Santa Maria Valley. The food-friendly finished product was aged for 17 months—half in oak, half in stainless steel—resulting in a well-rounded chardonnay displaying aromas of toast, apple, and citrus.

Michael and Anita Meagher at Old Creek Ranch.

The wine Meagher is most proud of, though, is his syrah, from White Hawk Vineyard in the northern Santa Ynez Valley near Los Alamos—another location with a relatively cool climate. “It’s a really special vineyard,” he says. Aged for 20 months, this beautiful, inky red is spicy with pepper and blue fruits.

Meagher’s signature winemaking is more artistic than scientific; it’s all about individuality and the process he loves, which favors quality over quantity. "I like balance, something more restrained, lower in alcohol," he says.

Looking ahead to his next bottling, Meagher is focused. "I want to make really distinct, amazing wine," says the winemaker, who is proud of his accomplishments thus far. "It takes a lot of work to do it—and I do it. You can taste it in the wine."

03-01-2009

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