There is one bottle in my wine collection I may never open. The 1999 Meeker Winemakers’ Handprint Merlot sat on my desk at NBC pretty much the entire nine year run of “In Wine Country,” the show that I created and produced. The bottle, wrapped in colorful handprints made by winemaker Charlie Meeker, was too cool to open.
I got that bottle in January 2002, when our crew was filming on location in Geyserville, in northern Sonoma County. Meeker has a tasting room in this tiny town, located in a former bank with a vault. The eye-catching label drew me in, and I always vowed to go back and do a story with them.
The folks at The Meeker Vineyard reached out to me on the occasion of their 40th anniversary in 2017. I wasn’t able to attend the library tasting celebration, but vowed I would get up to the winery soon. That finally happened in September 2018. I met Charlie’s son Lucas at Meeker’s Healdsburg winery. He learned winemaking from his dad and is now head winemaker. Today, Lucas’ handprints adorn those Merlot bottles.
The story goes that Charlie started putting his multicolor paint-soaked handprints on the bottles so there was no doubt it was a Meeker Merlot. To do it, he had to create a plaster mold of his hands, then coat it with paints in a rainbow of colors, dip his hands in the mold and wrap them around a bottle. Each bottle is printed by hand, with the help of someone holding the bottle. Lucas puts his handprints on more than 24,000 bottles per year.
The 2013 vintage, which I tasted with Lucas, is plush and velvety, bursting with rich black cherry and cardamom spice, and tastes of tart red cherry, pomegranate and cranberry fruit layered with vanilla and caramel notes. This wine is just yummy – super easy drinking and is versatile enough to go with a variety of food. The 2014 vintage sells for $45.
But Meeker makes more than just Merlot.
Standouts include the 2017 Verdelho from Contra Costa County ($21), juicy and bright with tropical fruit notes of pineapple and banana. You won’t find this Portuguese varietal at many California wineries because there are less than 350 acres of Verdelho vineyards in the entire state of California.
Shimmer, one of the wines in the Hone series, is the wine Lucas says he makes for himself. The 2015 Hone Series #2 ($42) is 100% Syrah from the Russian River Valley.
“The idea with Hone series is wines we make for our own learning experience,” Lucas says. “My dad has this tradition of every year we try and do one experiment.”
For Shimmer, that experiment was making Syrah from a cool climate vineyard in the Russian River Valley. Meeker’s Syrah typically comes from a warmer climate vineyard in Dry Creek Valley. The cooler climate shows up in this more earthy, almost meaty and savory wine.
Call the 2015 Cabernet Franc, Dry Creek Valley ($45), a home run. Made from fruit off of 40-year-old vines, this is classic Cab Franc, savory with green pepper, sage and and green olive on top of black cherry fruit and violet floral aromas.
My personal favorite is the 2014 Grenache from Hoskins Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley ($38). Violet and lavender aromas fill the glass. A lighter bodied wine, the Grenache has bright acidity and lots of herbal notes too.
Maybe it is time to open the 1999 Merlot. After all, the wine is approaching 20 years old. And I can always keep the bottle.
Visit The Meeker Vineyard tasting room at 21035 Geyserville Ave.,