interview with Ray Fister and Life Between the Vines
'Oppun Towis Friends,
I'm going to be a little lazy this time around and just post a link to an interview I did in December, 2022 with Ray Fister and his excellent "Life Between the Vines" podcast. We talk about the history of Meyye as well as California's very first winemakers–spolier alert, it was not Franciscan monks.
Be sure to also check out his "Vino Lingo" series of interesting wine terms described by actual winemakers and why they use them. Facinating little gems of winemaking.
Sokootok - what's with the name?
'Oppun towis friends,
You’ve seen the labels on our wines, the natural beauty of the birds, and maybe, made a subtle connection between the beauty of birds and the beauty of wine. But there is an origin story to every wine label and as such, I wanted to bring you the origin story of Sokootok (shoh-koh-tohk) our Rhone-style blend.
When I set out to make this wine in 2018, I had no idea what bird I was going to use. Meyye wasn’t even founded yet and I was still the owner/winemaker at Story Winery. Sokootok is a blend of five different wines, two of which are purpose-built for this wine: Grenache and Counoise (coon-wahz). The other three are Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel (or Mouvedre). The blend is styled after the wines from Chateauneuf-de-Pape, which is both a region in France and a wine. Up to 17 different varietals can be used to create a Chateauneuf-de-Pape wine in France. This means there is great variation from producer to producer. After much enjoyable research, I settled on a Grenache-centered blend comprising at least 50% of the final product with the remaining percentages dominated by Syrah. Each wine lot is fermented and aged separately for the first year (the Grenache and Counoise are stored in stainless steel barrels). During the beginning of the second year, the wines are blended in varying percentages to achieve a consistency year to year. The blended wine is then returned to neutral oak barrels for additional aging and maturation.
So, what does any of this have to do with the California Quail? It just so happens that Meyye, which means 'bird' in Coast Miwok, was coming into fruition. When it was time to decide on the second bird in the collection, it was an easy choice. The California Quail was my mom’s favorite bird. Meyye would not exist if it wasn’t for her. She was instrumental in resurrecting the Coast Miwok language through our tribal language program and her work inspired me to pay homage to my tribe and heritage with this brand. I owe a great debt of gratitude to her. Someone who inspired me, supported me (emotionally and financially), and literally gave birth to me. And so, I wanted to honor her by putting her favorite bird on the label. People told me I was crazy for putting an unpronounceable name on a label. But I didn’t care, I did it for Mom. So please join me in raising a glass to toast my mom, Joanne Campbell, who I miss each, and every day.
Finding Chardonnay's Roots
'Oppun Towis Friends,
When I was typing up the new tasting notes for our 2020 Kuluppis (koo-loo-pee) chardonnay, I realized I had no idea of the origin of the Robert Young clone (aka Clone 17). I knew it was named for the Robert Young Vineyard in Alexander Valley but not much beyond that. Soon, I was down a rabbit hole of chardonnay clones and the grape’s history and discovered a compelling story. (Thanks to Nancy Sweet, FPS Historian at UC Davis for her paper which I’ve borrowed heavily from here.)
What we call chardonnay today started in the Mâconnais (Mac-o-nay) sub region of Burgundy, France (just north of the city of Lyon). The actual word ‘chardonnay’ today is a village in the Saône-et-Loire region of Burgundy and loosely translates from Latin as either (1) the name of a Roman landowner named Cardus who owned the village at the end of the Roman empire or (2) Cardonnacum the “place where thistles grow” Tasty, huh? Chardonnay is just the French version of the Latin name. The grape is a cross of two different grape varietals–pinot noir and a near extinct variety called gouais (goo-WAY) blanc. It’s theorized that the pinot grape’s thicker skin, yield, and resistance to rot (unlike gouais blanc) helped the grape grow well, produce ample juice (meaning more wine yield), and retain the fresh apple aromatics and taste of the gouais blanc grape, an ancient Roman varietal. This hybrid grape formed the foundation for white Burgundy starting in the 13th century with Cistercian monks of the Abbey of Cîteaux. As the wine got better, the local Duke of Bourgogne ceded more land to the church for more vines and more wine for his own fame and fortune. The rest is history–chardonnay became the dominant grape of white burgundies and remains so 1,000 years later.
In California, the history is a little more mixed and recent. Chardonnay was first available from grapevine nurseries, mainly in Southern California, as early as the 1880’s (originally marketed as ‘Chardonai’ or confused with Pinot Blanc). Little was planted in the state in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as mostly experimental vineyards. Fortunately, some budwood was imported directly from France by Charles Wetmore, a California Agricultural Commissioner, and planted at his vineyard La Cresta Blanca in Pleasanton, CA during this time. It wasn’t until well after prohibition was repealed that it started to be seriously planted in the Wente Bros. vineyards in Livermore, using budwood from Wetmore’s vineyard as well as new clones directly from France. The combination of all these different chardonnay clones became known collectively as the “Wente clone” and served as the basis for the California chardonnay viticultural industry. Continuing research by both winemakers and academics at UC Davis during the 1940s and 1950s found that the Wente clone could make exceptional wines, but in cooler climate terroirs. And that is where the story begins with our chardonnay.
Robert Young was a prune farmer in Alexander Valley of Sonoma who turned his interest to grapes in the 1950s. At the urging of UC Davis, Carl Wente, and Young’s own love of white burgundies, he was given budwood from Wente in 1962 and planted them at his vineyards in Alexander Valley. Wente’s experiments with different chardonnay clone sources and lack of documentation ‘muddies the water’ as to what exact clone(s) he gave Young. Soon enough, Young discovered that the chardonnay grapes from Wente’s cuttings made exceptional wine, grew well, and produced good tonnage – perfect for a commercial vineyard. In 1982, he submitted samples of his budwood to UC Davis’ Foundation Plant Services (FPS) to classify it as its own clone. In 1987, Clone 17 was officially adopted (also called the Robert Young Clone) and thus allowed nurseries to start cultivating the clone to sell other growers  (with Robert Young Vineyards written approval of course).
Our grapes come from the Sangiacomo Vineyards Kiser Vineyard location in Sonoma, CA (about 4 miles west from the Plaza at the center of town). Our block is labeled 07 CH C on the map and was planted in 2007. The Robert Young clone is one of 20 clones grown at the site. We feel the clone, on this site, produces a beautiful fruit profile of ripe apples and pears. We age the chardonnay for 10 months in oak (about 40% new), sur lee (keeping the wine on the used yeast cells from fermentation), and frequently stir the contents every 3 weeks. This combination results in a rich, creamy, chardonnay with plenty of fruit and a long, lingering finish.
As you enjoy this 100% Robert Young chardonnay clone, think back to the journey those vines had. From 13th century Cistercian monks to early California grape nurseries and Wetmore, to the forethought of the Wente and Young families, to UC Davis, and especially to the Sangiacomo family for growing exceptional fruit year in and year out—the source of this delicious wine.
Footnotes for more insight, all great reads.
 Chardonnay Flourishes in California; https://fps.ucdavis.edu/grapebook/winebook.cfm?chap=Chardonnay
 Harold P. Olmo. Chardonnay, an ampelography prepared for the Wine Advisory Board, San Francisco, California, 1971.
 The Demystified Vine: https://demystifiedvine.com/2013/10/25/an-inquiry-into-the-etymology-of-grape-varietal-names/
 DNA Fingerprinting Reveals Surprise in Wine-grape Family Tree; https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/dna-fingerprinting-reveals-surprise-wine-grape-family-tree
 From 5th to 15th C.: wines made by monks and trumpeted by the Dukes of Bourgogne across Europe. https://www.bourgogne-wines.com/our-expertise/a-story-of-time/the-contribution-of-the-monks-and-dukes-of-bourgogne/from-5th-to-15th-c.-wines-made-by-monks-and-trumpeted-by-the-dukes-of-bourgogne-across-europe,2517,9387.html
 Chardonnay Flourishes in California, https://fps.ucdavis.edu/grapebook/winebook.cfm?chap=Chardonnay
 Chardonnay Flourishes in California, https://fps.ucdavis.edu/grapebook/winebook.cfm?chap=Chardonnay
 Chardonnay Flourishes in California, Other California Clones, Robert Young Clone, Clone 17, https://fps.ucdavis.edu/grapebook/winebook.cfm?chap=Chardonnay
 Sangiacomo Vineyards, Kiser Ranch Map. https://sangiacomo-vineyards.com/vineyards/kiser/
Coming out of the Fog
Oppun Towis Friends,
As this Spring approaches, it finally feels like we are emerging from the hazy fog of COVID and things are starting to feel like normal. During the past two years we remained busy in the cellar creating our newest wine, a Pinot Noir from the Petaluma Gap AVA of Sonoma County called ‘Omay. You’re probably full of questions…A pinot? Petaluma Gap? And, why is it called ‘Omay? So, let’s explore all those questions together.
Why a Pinot?
Simple…because me and Tina really love pinots. As a winemaker, I wanted to take on the challenge of working with the ‘diva’ of the wine grape industry. After consulting with many winemaking friends and reading everything I could about pinot production, I realized why it’s such a diva. Think handling the fruit with kitten gloves, meticulously managing the pre-soak fermentation, the right yeast for fermentatio, and sourcing the best possible oak you can—all the while thinking “DON’T SCREW IT UP”. But honestly, it all starts with the fruit.
Why Petaluma Gap AVA?
When setting out to make a pinot, I wanted a specific clone for my first pinot—one of the original pinot clones from Burgundy called Pommard. And, I wanted it from Sonoma Carneros. Carneros Pommard fruit was hard to come by in 2019 so I was introduced to the recently designated Petaluma Gap AVA by my friend Mike Sangiacomo who’s family farms roughly 1,300 acres throughout the entirety of Sonoma County. The Petaluma Gap AVA is in the southern end of Sonoma County (see map below)
Map courtesy of sonomawine.com
This specific vineyard location, Robert’s Road, is part of Sangiacomo Vineyards and is located at the north-east corner of the AVA at the base of Sonoma Mountain in an ancient river wash basin. One of the advantages of this region is that you get the best of two worlds – the earthiness of the Russian River Valley AVA and the fully ripe fruit characteristics of Sonoma-Carneros. It enjoys regular afternoon breezes coming over the hills from the ocean but is far enough inland to have the heat to fully ripen. This fruit is meticulously grown and sourced by many prestigious Pinot houses. I felt lucky to even have access to fruit from this vineyard. Aged for 14 months in 40% new French oak, I feel this wine really represents what Sonoma County pinot is all about.
Why is it called ‘Omay?
‘Omay (oh-may) is the Coast Miwok word for the Brown Pelican. When thinking about a bird for this wine I wanted to use a coastal bird. My native Californian family descends from the original inhabitants of Sonoma. Whether at the coast near Jenner, or the villages at Tolay Lake near the top of the Bay (which happens to be the picture on the Meyye home page), I wanted a bird that my family identifies with and the good tidings that pelicans bring. Their majestic flight, their presence indicating fish are running, and those flight formations of a dozen giant birds flying inches from the surface of the ocean always bring a smile and a sense of awe as they fly by.
We hope you bring some of this wine into your house and share with your best friends and family.
Rob & Tina
Preparing to Launch
Oppun' towis! (opun tow-ish) / Hello, how are you!
Welcome to the new Meyye Wines website. This will be your portal into all things Meyye and the way to access your allocation. I know you're eager to get the wine. And, we are eager to get it to you! But, what have we been up too...
It's been a crazy year. Last year, our family sold Story Winery on Aug 1, 2019 but I remained as the winemaker for Story Winery. After a hectic transition (we quadrupled (4X) our production at Story) we took a well deserved break during the holidays and started to plan a big kickoff event for Meyye in the sping. Then the COVID-19 pandameic hit.
So, while everything in the world has changed, we silently release our new brand, Meyye ('bird' in Miwok). Meyye is an allocation only brand, meaning there will be no tasting room, the wine will not be sold in stores and will be produced on a micro scale–an overall production of 500 cases a year of just four wines.
What will the wines be? Zinfandel, chardonnay, pinot noir, and a red wine blend done in the tradition of Chateauneuf-de-Pape. The first allocation, our 2014 Zinfandel will be ready for allocation soon. Meyye wines all go through exacting aging regimes, bottled, then aged for additional years. This ensures that when you recieve the wine it is ready to drink but will also age quite well for years to come.
We encourage you to roam around the new website and familiarize yourself with where things are located (and maybe learn some new Coast Miwok words).
Thank you again for your support and allowing me to exercise my passion and vision in the pursuit of making equisite wine for my friends and family.
(Have a good day)