Noted grapevine geneticist Carole Meredith is retiring next month from the University of California, Davis. Meredith, who joined the department of viticulture and enology in 1980, pioneered the use of DNA fingerprinting techniques to determine grapevine varieties and establish their parentage.
In 1996, Meredith and then graduate student John Bowers accidentally discovered genetic similarities between Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Further investigation led to the conclusion that Cabernet Sauvignon resulted from a cross between the other two varieties about 300 years ago.
Later, Meredith's close collaboration with French researcher Jean-Michel Boursiquot produced further discoveries about the parents of Syrah, Chardonnay, Gamay and other varieties. Most recently, her work with colleagues in Croatia solved the mystery of Zinfandel's origins.
In addition to her genetics work, Meredith has chaired the department's teaching committee for the past several years, taught its introductory winemaking course, advised undergraduates and supervised graduate students from around the world. She was an author of more than 70 articles and scientific papers, founded an international grapevine genetics consortium, and in 2000, received the Ordre du Merite Agricole from the French government.
The university, which is facing budget cuts, has no immediate plans to replace Meredith or to continue her DNA profiling work. According to Meredith, her DNA research was driven largely by her own personal interest.
After her retirement on Jan. 4, Meredith plans to devote much of her time to her Lagier-Meredith label. Seventeen years ago, Meredith and her husband, Steven Lagier, bought an 84-acre property on Mount Veeder and planted a few acres of Syrah. The couple's first release, the Lagier-Meredith Syrah Mount Veeder 1998, was rated 91 points by Wine Spectator.
Read more about Carole Meredith and her work on grapevine parentage: