A Wine By Any Other Name

/ March 4, 2015

My mother, Mei Chen, would have been 82 this month. Her name “Mei” (pronounced “May”) means “beautiful” in Chinese. My mother was not much of a drinker, but for the occasional sweet dessert wine or wedding champagne. But she was a wonderful cook, and often used wines in her dishes. So, you ask, what does my mother have to do with the wine I’m writing about this month? Well, a couple of things. First, the name. Second, the Meiomi Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are a blend of multiple vineyards stretching along the California coast starting from Sonoma to Monterey and Santa Barbara. My mother loved the California coast where we spent many years traveling up and down Highway 1, making great memories. She loved California so much that she moved back there right before she died.

Now, market research shows that women (including myself) often buy wines for the name of the wine and the appeal of the label. Naturally, I’ve felt a personal connection to the Meiomi Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for quite a while now. Not surprisingly, many of our customers also love the Meiomi line, perhaps not for its name as much as for the beautiful flavors inside the bottle.

The word “Meiomi” (May-OH-mee) actually means “coast” in the language of the California Wappo and Yuki tribes. The grapes from the coastal appellations of Santa Barbara County, Monterey County and Sonoma County contribute to both the Pinot Noir and the Chardonnay. Unifying the unique characters from each region allows the wines to express their best combined attributes. The Chardonnay gets its exotic sweet spice and lively tropical fruit notes from Santa Barbara; crisp apple and lean minerality from Sonoma, and ripe stone fruit and round, creamy texture from Monterey County. The Pinot Noir has a layered blend of Santa Barbara’s spice-filled aromas; Sonoma’s bright berry flavors; and Monterey’s rich textures.

It’s worth talking a little more about the three distinct regions from which Meiomi sources its grapes. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Sonoma is the diversity of the soils and climate as you move from east to west and north to south.  There are areas of loam topsoil with sandy loam underneath that was once the bottom of the ocean; then the alluvial deposits with light clay loam on top and river bed gravel subsoil.  Some ridges peak out over the fog, while the valleys are enveloped by it, slowing the ripening process. They seem to exemplify the area with an intense concentration of fruit and minerality while maintaining a balanced acidity.

About 300 miles south of Sonoma lay the sandy loam soils of Santa Barbara. With its foggy mornings, it has long been known as California's spice box when it comes to flavor profile. Many of the vineyards in this area were some of the first planted in California's coast and they remain in beautiful shape. Low cropping vines with thick, gnarled trunks. With the soils ranging from calcareous to sandy and the weather fogged in most of the summer, this area gives some great hang time and development of flavors. Come August, the Santa Ana winds come barreling through the valley from the warm interior of California to give the grapes a ripening push. Like clockwork, full ripeness arrives in September.

Sitting happily between Sonoma and Santa Barbara are the wind and sun drenched valleys of Monterey. The soils here are full of sand, some light loams and strands of white, chalky calcium deposits in areas. Two things that can be relied upon at all times are the wind and the sun. These two weather components create grapes with thick skins and dark, hard seeds. In winemaking, that means there’s more to extract, resulting in a more textural wines. A key to the balance is the wind, bringing cool, coastal weather along with it, keeping the acidity in balance.

Blending it all together is Joseph Wagner, the winemaker of Meiomi. Joe’s father is Chuck Wagner, winemaker of Caymus Vineyards. Chuck Wagner and his parents started Caymus Vineyards in 1972. As a fifth generation Napa Valley winemaker and the youngest son of Chuck, Joe learned his way around a vineyard long before he was able to drink wine.  By the time he was 19, he knew that he would continue his family’s winemaking legacy.  He started Belle Glos wines and then followed up with the creation of Meiomi.  Joe and his wife Amber live in Napa Valley with their six children.

My mother loved food; both making it and eating it. One of her favorite dishes was a whole bass or flounder. When she was done with the fish (eyeballs and all), there was nothing left for a cat to lick. Her other favorites were spicy Chinese and Mexican. So here’s a toast to family, and to my beautiful mother, Mei, with a glass of Meiomi wine!

Catherine Hester

About the Author

co-owner of Teller Wines in Lewes, DE with her husband Kevin, is a world traveler and shares their adventures at various wineries while offering thoughts on why she and Kevin order particular wines for their customers. Learn more about the Hesters by clicking here. View all articles written by Catherine Hester

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  1. Avatar Gloria says:

    A delightful article. Meiomi is one of my favorite wines, and I’m glad to see it getting the positive reviews it deserves. Also, a lovely tribute to the author’s mother. Thanks so much for the fine article.

  2. Avatar Karen Sposato says:

    Catherine what a lovely piece! I enjoyed reading about your mother and her interests. Wish I could cook fish like that ~ I don’t know anything about eyeballs! Haha ~ I want to try the wine you’ve suggested. Cheers ~

  3. Avatar Dianne Leadlove says:

    VERY nicely written Catherine. Was a pleasure to read, as I know the California areas you speak of well. Used to live there and miss it very much!

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