Hoping to start a winemaking program at the Monterey Bay campus of California State University, Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards is giving the school the proceeds from three experimental vineyards at his Monterey County winery, Mer Soleil.
Wagner, who founded Mer Soleil in 1992, has been conducting experiments to find out which varietals fare best in the Santa Lucia Highlands region of Monterey County. Currently, the winery's vineyards consist of more than 320 acres of Chardonnay (which have produced some highly rated wines) and about 90 acres of Viognier. But Wagner has also tried several other varieties, including 3 acres each of Pinot Gris, Riesling and Pinot Blanc.
Those three vineyards produce about 1,800 cases of wine a year, bottled with labels designed by art students from the university. While Wagner oversees the vineyards, his son, Charlie Wagner Jr., handles most of the winemaking duties. The three varietal bottlings were first released from the 1997 vintage. The wines retail for $16 a bottle and are only available in California.
So far, Wagner has donated $15,000 to the university from the 1997 wines, and he expects to raise another $15,000 from that vintage. Proceeds from the 1998 wines, which have not yet been released, will also be contributed to the university.
While the money currently goes to the school's environmental science department, Wagner intends to eventually help finance a winemaking program. "We're meeting the university president early next year to collect our thoughts, look at the numbers and figure when we could start a viticulture and enology department," he said.
Check out recent ratings of Mer Soleil Chardonnay.
To learn more about the growing Monterey region: