Meek Family Estates: Minnesotan now makes world-class wines in Washington

Meek Family Estates Yakima Valley
Meek Family Estates Yakima Valley
Michael Meek

I met Michael Meek two years ago as he was about to release his first vintage of Meek Family Estates. As a resident of Minnetonka, Michael realized that to make world-class wines you need to head west, and his location in Yakima Valley, Washington, is the ideal setting to make great wines at affordable prices.

I sat down with Michael for a question-and-answer session on his wines from Meek Family Estates.

Where are your vineyards? The vineyard land is located in Benton City within the Yakima Valley in Washington State.

What year were the vines planted and what is the terroir? In 2001 we planted vitus vinifera vines in an area with an arid climate. The estate vineyards are planted on shallow, rocky soils, high above the Yakima River and slope south. This unique combination of soil, elevation, and slope produces grapes with exceptional complexity, concentration, and intense fruit flavors. Currently 54 acres of the 135 owned is planted with vines, with some cherry trees on the property."

What grape varieties are grown on your estate? Cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, malbec, petit verdot, syrah, grenache, mourvedre, counoise, cinsault, sauvignon blanc, and semillon. The total case production is 1,000.

Who is the winemaker? I am the winemaker, although I have been supported by a couple of key consultants over the last few years. 2009 was my first solo vintage, and I must say the wines are outstanding and some of the best the site has ever produced. It is really about the vineyard, and the winemaker needs to allow Mother Nature to make great wines.

How did you get started in the wine business, and why did you choose Yakima Valley? "My grandfather W.J. Meek was really my inspiration, and he made wine in the kitchen while I was growing up. He also had one row of vines in the backyard that we would pick each year. I choose Yakima Valley because it is the best growing region in the state for my style of wines I wanted to produce. Big, rich, complex, and concentrated."

What is the best advice anyone gave you? That's a difficult one. I've had so much help and advice from so many people. I think the best I got was from Fred Artz, vineyard manager of the famed Klipsun Vineyard on Red Mountain. He was my first wine consultant. He said if you want to make great wine, it's all about the site, soils, macro and micro climate, elevation, terroir, etc. Vineyard management is critically important, but if you don't have the right site greatness is not possible. The winemaking is the easy part! As the cliche goes, all great wine is made in the vineyard.

What style of wines are you seeking to make? I want to make big wines with a lot of character, and wines that will showcase a sense of place. Napa wines are certainly a place to emulate, but Yakima wines are certainly not Napa wines. I also use French oak.

What type of partnership do you have with Scott Greer at Sheridan Vineyards? Scott is one of my mentors and has been an inspiration to me in terms of quality and style of wine I strive to produce. The 2005 vintage was guided by his hands.

Are you looking to produce more styles of wine over time or focus on what you are currently doing? I will expand my productions and offerings over time. I have some exciting Rhone varietals coming into production and plan to produce a Rhone-style blend in the next couple of years. In addition, as the vineyard continues to mature, I will produce a cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and malbec. Malbec has the ability to do well in Yakima, and so far the acre I have planted is outstanding."

Do you see the Meek Family name ever becoming a household name in restaurants and wine shops in America? I don't think I'll ever be a household name. That is not the goal. The goal is to produce Washington's finest wines and share this special place and the wines it produces with my friends and family. Making wine is a great way to make a lot of friends!

I strongly encourage you to try some of Meek's wines. Here are a few notes on bottles available at Sorella Wine & Spirits, France 44, and Excelsior Vintage.

Meek Family Estate "WJ" Yakima Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Good acidity, and the nose and palate offer minerals, lemon, floral, and citrus notes. Medium finish. Enjoy with seafood. 88 points

Meek Family Estate "WJ" Yakima Valley Syrah 2006 Big nose with blackberries, raspberries, smoke, and spice. Palate is in your face and offers plenty of concentrated fruit. Enjoy with a burger. 90 points

Meek Family Estate Yakima Valley Syrah 2005 Around $10 more than the WJ Syrah but well worth it. Aromas of cherry, blackberries, oak, vanilla and spices. The palate is concentrated, with amazing flavors that linger in your mouth for a 30-second-plus finish. Enjoy with a rack of ribs. 93+ points

Meek Family Estate "Inherit" Yakima Valley 2005 This Bordeaux style-wine (merlot/cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, and malbec) offers aromas of blueberries, vanilla, oak, and cherry. Smooth finish and drinking well without much 92 points

Also, check out my radio show at Don't Fear the Grapes with more information about Michael Meek and his winery: Don't Fear the Grape In-depth Podcast


John Glas Wineglas

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