In 1991, the late Justin Meyer, co-founder of famed Silver Oak Cellars, sadly decided to discontinue production of the Oakville winery?s much loved Bonny?s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
Since its first vintage in 1979, the wine named for his wife had simply become too popular: There was too little of it (under 500 cases a year) and Meyer found it too heartbreaking year after year to have to say no to the growing number of people who wanted it.
?The ?91 would have been sold in 1996, and by then we had international distribution for Silver Oak and it became a real challenge, a real problem to make everybody happy,? Bonny Meyer recalled. ?It was mostly Justin who said, ?You know, I think we need to stop making the Bonny?s Vineyard; it?s more of a problem than it?s worth.? ?
Seventeen years later, Bonny?s cab is back. Bonny?s youngest son, Matt, is charged with making it under the Meyer Family Cellars label, the winery his family started after selling their share of Silver Oak in early 2001.
The Meyers? new goal was to concentrate on a smaller family operation in a smaller appellation, Yorkville Highlands in Mendocino County, where the focus would be on such non-Silver Oak varietals as syrah and port, wines Matt makes with his wife, Karen. The one vineyard they retained in the Napa Valley was Bonny?s.
Justin didn?t get to see much of the new project through. He died in August of 2002 of a heart attack at age 63, a loss felt throughout the wine world.
It took his widow awhile to feel right about things, but late this summer she put the final OK on the release of a 2003 Meyer Family Cellars Bonny?s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, which is, as in the the old days, on a quick trajectory to selling out.
?Sometimes I?ll meet people for the first time and they?ll realize I was associated with Silver Oak,? Bonny Meyer explained. ? ?Oh,? they?ll ask, ?are you the Bonny?? I go, ?Yeah.? Fans still remember it.?
Having met at UC Davis while both were studying winemaking, Justin and Bonny co-founded the cabernet powerhouse that would become Silver Oak with Colorado oilman Ray Duncan in the early 1970s, crushing their first vintage in 1972, weeks after their honeymoon.
They set the new winery in Oakville among the fields of what had been the Keig Dairy, which included a scant 20 acres of Napa gamay hidden among 355 acres of clover and grass. Their name was devised by combining the Silverado Trail and Oakville Crossroad, the two roads leading to their property.
Over the next several years, Justin Meyer planted 300 acres of grapes there, mostly cabernet sauvignon, building on his years as a Christian Brother, when he had planted more than 3,000 acres throughout the North Coast.
The hard work paid off. Silver Oak soon became one of the most renowned of Napa Valley?s cult cabernet makers, a winery able to attract thousands every year to its annual release dates, where thirsty throngs eagerly lined up for the chance to try the new releases and hand over cash for the distinct 100-percent cabs aged in all-American oak barrels.
Bonny?s Vineyard is a 4-acre plot of land in the thick of Oakville, across the Oakville Crossroad from Silver Oak and the site of the family home, where Bonny continues to live. Originally planted in 1974, it was replanted in 1999, still eking out about a ton of cabernet sauvignon grapes per acre each year, a microscopic amount practically unheard of on the valley floor.
But these grapes are distinct: tight-clustered small berries that yield cherry and plum aromas along with a touch of cardamom, cedar and eucalyptus. The resulting wine is silky smooth and luscious, aged 34 months in new American oak. At under 14 percent alcohol, it?s also a standout food-friendly Napa cab true to its past.
?When we picked, how we aged in oak, the cooperage we traditionally used, the couple more years in the bottle ? all of that is the same,? Matt Meyer said. ?All that being said, it was very scary because we want the person who has the vertical of Bonny?s from 1979 to 1991 to be able to buy this bottle of wine, taste all these wines side by side and say, yes, I see this is a continuation.?
It had all started with a horse.
?A little while before our marriage, Justin asked me what I would like for a wedding gift,? Bonny recalled. ?To his dismay I said, ?A horse.? ?
She figured the horse would fit in perfectly in the barn in front of their Oakville house. He got her Tico Taco, a half Arab, half quarter horse, which she soon began to ride through the surrounding vineyards. One day they rode across the valley to a pretty vineyard with an unassuming sign, ?Martha?s Vineyard.? This was Tom and Martha May?s soon-to-be-very famous vineyard, the designate behind Heitz Cellars? stellar cabs.
Bonny jokingly told Justin she thought it would be wonderful to have a vineyard named in her honor. A couple Christmas mornings later, Justin presented her with a sign. On one side it read, ?You are Entering Bonny?s Vineyard,? and on the other, typical of his wit, ?You are leaving Bonny?s Vineyard.?
?I was touched, but it was also kind of funny and silly,? she said. ?It?s really nice to have the wine arrive at this point, it?s just so familiar, it puts me back.?
Virginie Boone is a freelance wine writer based in Sonoma County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit wineabout.pressdemocrat.com.
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