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Meghan Rech of Castle Rock Winery shares her experiences in the wine industry and collaborating with Tastry.

Winemaker Spotlight: Meghan Rech of Castle Rock Winery

Meghan Rech grew up in Sonoma County and graduated from the UC Davis Enology and Viticulture program, but, surprisingly, her path to winemaking wasn’t traditional. Despite growing up in wine country, she had no interest in the wine industry. Initially, Meghan studied Biological Sciences, with the goal of becoming a Pediatrician.

Toward the end of Meghan’s first undergraduate degree, she began rethinking a career in medicine which led to her working as a lab technician at the former R.H. Phillips Winery. Quickly, she fell in love with winemaking while learning about fermentation science and the various techniques to achieve different styles of wines.

After a few years, Meghan went back to UC Davis to get her second bachelor’s degree, this time following her new found passion of Viticulture and Enology. While going to school, Meghan worked as a harvest enologist for Napa Wine Company, a custom crush facility, where she learned different winemaking processes from many winemakers.

She then went onto Domaine Chandon to learn about sparkling wine production, and followed with working at Geyser Peak Winery as an Enologist. When Francis Ford Coppola expanded his Sonoma County footprint to include the Geyser Peak facility, Meghan became part of the creative and innovative Coppola team. In this new role, she primarily focused on managing custom client relationships, as well as sparkling and rose production. It was here where Meghan first worked with Castle Rock Winery. When their winemaker retired in 2018, she took a second job consulting for Castle Rock, while continuing to work for Coppola. When Meghan had her son in 2019, she took a step back from working two jobs and focused on working for Castle Rock.

Since 1994, Castle Rock has built a reputation of producing high quality wines at affordable prices. Among others, their offerings totaling 250 thousand cases per year include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Petite Sirah with grapes sourced from approximately 40 growers. You can find Castle Rock wines on the shelves of Trader Joes, Costco, and Safeway, along with other retailers.

What is the hardest thing about winemaking?

With larger, widely distributed brands, there is a rigid system of demand, but, with grape growing, the supply can sometimes be unpredictable. Many factors impact the quality, quantity and availability of your most important commodity. As a winemaker, you balance many different aspects of the process, and must think on your feet to make the best decisions with the information you have at that moment.

I would say this is more of a challenge than a difficulty, and it’s very rewarding when everything comes together in the form of a great bottle of wine. There are many different ways to get to the same goal, and keeping an open mind is so important.

What is the most rewarding part of your career?

For me, the reward has always been the enjoyment of the end product. Creating a product that can both be part of everyday life as well as more special occasions is very gratifying. Aside from what is inside the bottle, the most rewarding part for me is the relationships I’ve made throughout my winemaking journey. The wine industry is very intertwined and connected, and many of the relationships I’ve made through my career have been lifelong friendships.

What sets your winery apart from other wineries?

Since the company began in the early 90s, our innovation has been rooted in the fact that we have never owned and operated a physical winery. The whole brand and company has always been heavily dependent on the quality of relationships that we’ve made with growers, bulk wine suppliers, brokers, and the wineries that provide services for us. Our business model relies on mutual respect to create a positive business environment. I rely on our relationships and trust of our partner facilities so that, for example, when I send them blends, I can be confident they will be completed correctly. It’s an interesting dichotomy because I have a lot of control in our processes, but at the same time I rely on our partner facilities to complete certain tasks.

What makes your wine unique?

This is the only position I’ve held in my career where there is only one winemaker to oversee an operation of our size and complexity. It is made possible by the wonderful teams we work with where our wines are fermented, stored, and bottled, as well as the long term and positive relationships we maintain with growers and bulk wine suppliers.

It can be intimidating at times to not have a winemaking team to taste with every day, and this is what initially interested me in Tastry. I know which direction we want to take the wines, but it gives that extra bit of confidence to be able to predict that a particular blend will likely do well with customers.

How has your winemaking process changed over the years?

Often there is a misconception that wines at a lower price point will be simple, sweet, or overly altered and stylized. One of my first goals for crafting Castle Rock wines was to make sure we are correctly representing what one expects for the variety and appellation on our labels. To me, this has evolved into choosing winemaking practices that aim to highlight varietal expression, especially during fermentation. This helps to avoid later adjustments prior to bottling.

I don’t want someone to drink our $10 bottles of wine and not expect much. I want them to drink our wines and be surprised by the value they are getting.

How have you incorporated modern technology into your winemaking process?

Based on the business model and price point of Castle Rock wines, we have always used oak alternatives. At first, I thought that wasn’t something you wanted to share with consumers, but they truly are a wonderful tool. The success of our business relies on the oak aging process being nimble and consistent, which is easy to achieve with the many different types of adjuncts in the market. Most coopers now have their own line of adjuncts, which provide endless possibilities to create style profiles to match and enhance the characteristics of our fruit.

Tastry is another modern technology that can be incorporated into many scenarios that we encounter. If someone is interested in including our wine in their private label, getting an analysis from Tastry and sending them a sample accompanied by a tech sheet of Tastry data could make our product stand out. If we had to pull wine from the bulk market to supplement our blend, Tastry Bulk Marketplace can be a timesaving game changer by helping us find the variety and the specific attributes we are looking for. Right now, I have 50 bulk samples I have to taste through, but only four or five will probably end up being a fit for our program.

I don’t mind having help from a computer. I think it’s amazing. I don’t feel like it takes the artistic piece out of winemaking either. It’s just giving you an idea as a starting point that allows you to build confidence in your decision making.

What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from winemaking?

The need for flexibility in how you approach the process. One roadblock or unexpected outcome cannot stop the process, and solutions have to come in many forms.

There are so many instances in winemaking where you don’t have a lot of control over the situation, but you have to learn to focus on the elements that you can influence.

At each step of the winemaking process, there will be times where you have to pivot your plans and make adjustments along the way. It can be difficult to build confidence in making those constantly changing decisions, but you have to make the best choice with the knowledge you have.

What is one piece of advice you would like to give to newer winemakers?

Keep an open mind about where your career might take you. If you find that you love making a lower priced wine because the joy is in the logistics of larger scale winemaking, that is awesome. If you love being able to bottle single vineyard selections that you personally handled vine to bottle, that is awesome too. If you find you love selling wine more than making it, that’s wonderful. If you decide to get a winemaking degree, awesome. If not, there are many opportunities and people who will hire you without that degree. There are so many fulfilling aspects of this industry, and you might not even discover them until you start working.

What is one question you have for today’s wine consumer?

If you could look at a new brand and know with confidence that you would most likely enjoy what’s inside, is that information valuable to you? Would knowing the quality and chemistry of wines you may have overlooked because of shelf placement (and the stigma surrounding the shelf placement) influence you to try something new?

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