Last Friday, my husband and I decided to take a short drive to Davis to spend our COVID “date night.” I had been hearing some buzz about a relatively new winery, Great Bear Vineyards and we wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
As we approached, we were greeted by a tree-lined street between the vineyards and the melodic sound of a violin. We parked and walked toward the large mission-style winery as the sun was setting. As the night turned dark, small white lights lit up the grounds and provided an intimate atmosphere. People were gathered outside in small groups at individual tables that were socially distanced from one another. We checked in for our reservation and were handed a tasting sheet and two glasses. As soon as we were seated, we were welcomed by Marcus Meadows-Smith, one of the owners. He cheerfully poured us our first taste while he told us a bit about the winery and the wine in our glass.
Marcus, and his wife, Jenny, purchased the property in 2013 and planted the vineyard in 2014. Jenny attended winemaking classes at UC Davis, which is a few miles from the winery. Because of the proximity to the university, the vineyard has been used as a case study for students, who examine the vineyards, deciding on the best varietals, best trellising methods, irrigation, etc. Marcus said, “Jenny has become a very good winemaker in a very short amount of time” because she receives consultation and input from professors and industry veterans.
Jenny’s success as a winemaker is evidenced by a number of awards, including a 91 point score (out of 100) from Wine Enthusiast for the Great Bear 2018 Chardonnay and a number of medals from the San Francisco Chronicle’s Wine Judging Competition for various other wines.
Our tastings confirmed what the awards would indicate. The wines were beautifully styled and well-made, retaining freshness and brightness no matter the grape variety. During our visit, we had the opportunity to try the following:
- Great Bear 2019 Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) and Great Bear 2019 Rosé of Tempranillo ($22)— The grapes for both rosés were picked at a lower brix (degrees of sugar) to retain acidity and keep the wines crisp on the palate. The rosé of cabernet sauvignon offered an array of citrus notes that left our mouths watering. The rosé of tempranillo was a little softer and rounder, hinting at strawberries and cream.
- Great Bear 2019 Chardonnay ($22)—This highly rated chardonnay was fermented in neutral oak to give it a roundness without having gone through malolactic fermentation. Pear and lively citrus notes leaned into a finish accented by hints of baked bread.
- Great Bear 2017 Red Blend ($25)—A medium-bodied red, showed cherry from the cabernet with a little punch of berry and mid-palate richness from late season zinfandel, and finished with a touch of caramel.
- Great Bear 2017 Ashworth Reserve Cabernet ($40)—This medium– to full–bodied cabernet is styled classically and exhibits notes of black cherry, currant and chocolate. The wine is silky and juicy and glides seamlessly over the palate.
- Great Bear 2018 Malbec Reserve ($35)—Rich and lush, this wine is bursting with red and purple fruit flavors and offers whispers of toast and sweet vanilla on the finish.
Our tasting concluded with a walk around the winery and a purchase that was made on my phone and delivered to the table within minutes. The quality of wines and the commitment to delivering a delightful customer experience were clear. (It’s perhaps no wonder that Great Bear Vineyards was just awarded Best Local Winery by the readers of Sacramento Magazine.)