Thanks to Wine Blogging Wednesday founder and this month’s host Lenn Thompson of the blog Lenndevours: The New York Cork Report who prompts us this month to visit a winery–to taste and blog about a wine after visiting the source with bonus points for actually tasting with the winemaker. Here’s the complete story on his blog.
Where should I go? Well, it wasn’t much of a question as I had limited time available. While I am fortunate to have Sideways wine country practically in my backyard, I simply contacted Michael Meagher, winemaker at Old Creek Ranch Winery, which is about 15 minutes away from my home near the beach and Michael invited me over last Friday for when his first load of grapes arrive–viognier!
To hint at what kind of experience I had: I came home happily covered in grape juice, tasted the delish grenache blanc about to be bottled with the winemaker, and brought home the recently bottled but not yet released and not even labeled yet 2008 viognier!!
A little background: Old Creek Ranch Winery, established in 1981, is up Highway 33 on the Old Creek Ranch between the towns of Ojai and Ventura, California on a historic winery site. On the left is a picture of what remains of that winery; in the foreground is the native food plant, narrow-leaf milkweed, for monarch butterfly larva.
According to the Old Creek Ranch website:
The Ranch is part of a Spanish 22,000 acre land grant awarded to Don Fernando Tico, dating back to the early history of California. In the late 1800’s Antonio Riva of northern Italy purchased the ranch. He was a chef in Paris, London and later in San Francisco. He built a winery on the ranch at that time.
Wines were made without electricity and utilized gravity as a means to move the wine in the processing. Riva produced wine until about 1942, including the prohibition years. Wine purchasers would leave an order and money on the clothesline and would return later to pickup a jug of red wine left at the base of an oak tree.
My first experience with Old Creek Ranch Winery was with a lovely low RS riesling I brought to a family Thanksgiving many many years ago. Most of my family doesn’t drink much, and I have to admit that when I brought Ridge zins and cabs home, they didn’t really know what to do with them (and they preferred Yuban in a Mr Coffee over the Jamacan Blue Mountain prepared in a French Press that I brought from Peet’s). They enjoyed and appreciated this riesling and were amazed that wine this good was produced practically around the block. The wine was fabulous at holiday meals and I made an effort to bring it when I could.
Until a few years ago, Old Creek Ranch had many acres of vines which they pulled out due to an infestation of Pierce’s disease which the area is prone to and which devastated the wine grape vineyards around. As I liked that riesling, when I tasted their wines in general, I found them enjoyable certainly but a bit thin and not that complex.
I’m really happy to say that that this changed. As Michael Meagher has taken on more responsibilities and vintages as winemaker, and has influenced the winery, the wines being produced just keep getting better; it’s really exciting to think about what he will continue to do at this small (2,000 cases), local winery.
Meagher comes to Old Creek Ranch Winery with excellent credentials. As the story goes, he worked at the local Trader Joes (where he met and fell in love with many wines as well as his wife Anita who is one of the nicest, sincerest parents I’ve met at the school our kids go to!). He has his winemaking degree from UC Davis and he spent eight years at Mt Eden where they worked and lived on the ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains across from Ridge. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?
With his own family on the way, Michael and Anita moved back south, and soon he was working with Adam Tolmach at Ojai Vineyards. (If you haven’t tasted Tolmach’s wines, you should. I’ve never tasted a wine of his that didn’t just make me swoon with pleasure.)
As Michael tells it, “I left The Ojai Vineyard at the end of 2004 to start up my own label. I found a home at Old Creek Ranch Winery and began making my wines there. In 2007 their winemaker retired and it was a natural progression to take over Old Creek’s winemaking at that time – the 2007 and on wines are mine.”
It’s a good match–Old Creek Road Winery is very family oriented, with a strong sense of family history and involvement in the current operation as well as the previous one. The photo montage on the right is from their website and shows part of the winemaking Meagher family as well as the Whitman’s who own and operate the winery.
Because our kids were in the same kindergarten class, I got to know the Meagher family last school year, and so we invited to spend a day up at Old Creek Ranch Winery when they were bottling merlot which was really fun, even though I never got to do much in the way of bottling as the volunteers on the line had it under control. I did help some with the lunch–chef made the best meatloaf ever, and there was plenty of Old Creek Ranch Wines to go along with the feast!
That was my first visit–hard to imagine surpassing that, but my second visit did! I had some open bottles of wine from the Wine Blogger’s Conference and I was curious to taste some of it with Michael and get his assessment. In turn, he invited me to come up when he and owner John Whitman were doing a barrel tasting. I brought my laptop and attempted to tweet my way through the tasting producing tweets such as these:
sampling old creek ranch winery chard 08 sanford & benedict one of the original santa barbara vienyards
old creek winery chard barrel tasting subtle oak not yet gone thru ML lovely nice acid
sample chard 08 old creek will add 25% gone thru MLrich buttery almost like popcorn
barrel sample old creek viognoir some fun tropical fruits; 3 barrels #2 much more color dif yeast
grenache blanc 1st x intersting!creamy blue cheese stainless steel barrel tasting old creek ranch winery
primitivo barrel sample old creek road winery –first time I’ve had this grape! v. interesting not at all like zin
old creek ranch winery barrel tasting: I give up! 2 many wines 2 fast 2 fun 2 good 2 slow down & tweet–faster than live blogging at #owc09
(Due to a family medical emergency, I’ll continue to add details including a discussion of a few wines as I can. There’s some extensive notes their finished viognier here somewhere!!)