Excelsior resident Michael Meek started a vineyard in Washington in 2001. Eight years later, he's producing seriously tasty wines under the Meek Family Estate label.
(This is part of an occasional series of profiles on Twin Citians who have fulfilled the dream of all wine lovers: starting their own wineries.)
You know you're around somebody smart when you hear this:
"One of the things I've learned is to surround myself with people smarter than me."
That's Michael Meek, and that has been the Excelsior resident's approach since he started up a vineyard in Washington in 2001. Eight years later, he's producing seriously tasty wines under the Meek Family Estate label.
As a longtime retail poohbah with a résumé that includes directing guest services at Dayton/Hudson's and launching Target Direct, Meek did a lot of traveling.
"It seemed like wherever I ended up, I was drawn to vineyards, and I noticed that wherever grapes grow well, they have beautiful, nice weather," he said over lunch at Sapor restaurant in Minneapolis. "So I decided that I wanted to own a vineyard. I always loved to garden, always had a vegetable garden."
This, of course, was a garden of a different color (or colors). After finding the land prices "just crazy" in California wine country, he came across a 135-acre plot, planted with apple and cherry trees, in the Yakima Valley near Benton City, Wash. "I bulldozed the apples and kept the cherries," he said, landing on 56 acres for cherries and 54 for grapes.
The original intent was just to grow grapes, and he still sells more than 90 percent of them. But Meek also immersed himself in learning about winemaking. "I went to Cal-Davis and took every short course they offered. I read everything I could read," said Meek. "One of the cool things in this business is that people will talk to you."
And that's where the "surround yourself with smarter people" part comes in. Meek sought out and soaked in knowledge from Fred Artz, manager of what he considered Washington's best vineyard, Klipsun. To help produce his own juice, Meek hired two savvy winemaking consultants, Scott Greer and Tim Stevens.
The Meek Family 2008 sauvignon blanc ($14) is bright and lively with tropical touches. The "Inherit" Bordeaux-style blend ($24) boasts huge fruit and bracing tannins that soften seamlessly. The WJ red blend ($15) is smoky and surprisingly complex, while the WJ syrah ($22) is earthy and racy with wild-herb undertones.
The "WJ," by the way, is a tribute to Meek's grandfather, Wilfred John, who grew grapes in his yard when Michael was growing up in Seattle. Meek now grows grapes on that property, but can't spend much time there between his vineyard a few hundred miles to the east and his "real" job more than a thousand miles further east, at Eden Prairie's Lifetouch Portrait Studio,.
"That's not only the 'day job' but the paying job," he said with a chuckle. "Wine is where my passion is. The paying job is to feed my passion."
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