Favorite Food: Chicken picata
Hobbies: Golf, working out at the gym or going to the park with his daughter
Best Job: Making beer and wine for an artistic outlet
Worst Job: Marketing and selling
Worthy Achievements: Winning a silver medal in the Robust Porter category at the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado
Beer That’s Most Like Him: Pale ale — aggressive and serious
Favorite Wine: Korbel Natural
Golf is a sport that demands concentration, skill and golf clubs. I have none of these. But I thought what the hell, I could use some exercise.
Northwood Golf Course is just down the road from Korbel Champagne Cellars in the heart of the Russian River Valley on California’s North Coast. This picturesque setting is home to towering redwood trees, the winding Russian River and a bunch of guys walking around in ugly pants. What better place for an interview.
Randy Meyer, winemaker/brewmaster for Korbel, arrives with a carload of golf gear and iced beer (compliments of Russian River Brewing Co.). I must say, Randy has style. Even his pants were tasteful!
The first order of business was getting me some clubs. Northwood golf pro Vern Ayres said he had just the set for me — clubs that would do wonders for my handicap. Looking back I think Vern underestimated my disability. Anyway, we loaded up the golf cart and headed out.
Randy drove while I asked questions and enjoyed a porter. It was tough getting into the interview, though. It was a beautiful blue sky day, the sun spaying its warmth through the towering redwoods as we rolled silently over the lush greenery of the Russian River terrain. It’s a tough job…
Somehow we found the first tee. Randy teed up… or teed off… In any event, he hit a rope (golf slang for a straight line-drive shot) down the middle of the fairway. I could see this was going to be a long day. I was nervous. I hadn’t played golf in… I hadn’t played golf. Randy gave me some great advice: “Treat the ball like a fine ale. Don’t lose sight of it, and enjoy.” So I teed up… or whatever… and let her rip. Well, I hit a rope, too. Unfortunately it had an “Out of Bounds” sign attached to it. Yep, a long day!
Time to start the interview.
Wine X: You have an extensive background in making both still and sparkling wine, having worked at Far Niente, Domaine Chandon and now, of course, at Korbel. So why are you making beer?
Meyer: You know, I hate being asked that question.
That’s a hell of a start.
Meyer: Just kidding. Wine and beer are passions of mine. It’s my life goal to make them both, and make them well, and get respected for it. So when the opportunity to make beer presented itself at Korbel, I jumped at it.
Wine X: What’s the difference, to you, between making beer and wine?
Meyer: Winemaking is like a game of golf. You only get one round, or chance, to make it good. So vintage variation is expected. Brewing is like crush, or harvest, all year ’round. You can make beer every day if you want. But it has to be consistent. Variation in brewing from one batch to the other is lethal.
Wine X: Did you see where my ball went?
Meyer: I think it went across the street.
Wine X: Perfect. We all know what a wine geek is. Is there such a thing as a beer geek?
Meyer: Yeah. But they’re not as bad as wine geeks. Yet.
Randy drops me off near the street. I comb the area for my ball. Where the hell is that little…
Meanwhile, Randy lines up his shot from the middle of the fairway.
Meyer: Need some help there…
Wine X: Got it. Found it.
Just off the fairway ten yards ahead of Randy’s ball.
Meyer: Wow. Must’ve hit something and come back, huh? You out-drove me too. Nice ball.
Wine X: Yeah, lucky bounce.
Meyer: Guess that means I’m up.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I couldn’t find my ball, so I dropped one and said I found it. Well, you can think whatever you want, because I have a clear conscience… and, now, a clear shot to the green.
Randy selects a five iron. Steadies over his ball. Let’s one fly. Right toward the cup.
Meyer: Sit down, sit down.
His ball lands 10 feet from the pin. Stops.
Wine X: Very nice.
I select a six iron. Steady over my ball. Concentrate, concentrate. Wwwwwwwhack!
Meyer: You’re not very good at this are you?
I hop in the cart, and we continue. Open a couple more beers.
Wine X: Beer’s looked at as an everyday drink. What do you consider an everyday wine?
Meyer: We consider our (Korbel) Chardonnay Champagne, or Cha Cha as we call it, the micro brew of wine. It’s fruity, full of flavor and sells for about 10 bucks nationwide.
Wine X: Thanks for that shameless plug. Do you realize there’s a beaver on your beer label?
Meyer: Yeah, it was one of the owner’s ideas. (shrugs) Don’t ask me, I just make the stuff.
Wine X: On that subject, how about a Seinfeld and beer pairing?
Meyer: Jerry’s definitely an IPA; just full of everything. George is like a little stout or porter — edgy and short. Kramer is a Belgian beer — a bit exotic and crazy.
We come to the green.
Wine X: Did you see where my ball went? After it hit the house?
Meyer: I think it’s in the trap over there.
Wine X: Oh, great. So who would be the poster person for the microbrew industry if you had one?
Meyer: Jim Belushi. Easy going, stocky and a bit obnoxious.
Wine X: And wine?
Meyer: Pierce Brosnan. Cool, suave and a bit obnoxious.
Randy addresses his ball. Marks it. Takes care of the divot.
Wine X: What do you consider a fair price to pay for beer and wine?
Meyer: A good six-pack of micro brew shouldn’t be over $7.99. It’s ridiculous if it’s more than that. Wine? About $20 is the limit. I want my money’s worth when I buy a bottle of wine. On special occasions I’ll spend $30. But if I’m going to drop that much on a pinot, it better be worth it.
At this point I’m knee-deep in sand trying to figure out how the hell I’m gonna get the ball anywhere close to the green.
Wine X: Hey, who’s that over there? Isn’t that…?
Meyer: (turning away) What?
Sand sprays from the trap. My ball sails out and ends up 12 feet from the cup.
Meyer: (turning back) Wow. Nice out.
Wine X: Thanks. Uh, could you help me here. I’m kinda stuck.
I know. I know. You’re thinking that when Randy turned away, I swung my club, let some sand fly and threw my ball onto the green. Well, I have a clear conscience… and a 12-footer for a bird.
Anyway, we’re both on the green. I’m away (golf slang for hitting the worse shot), so it’s my attempt for a bird (golf slang for five strokes over par). Hmmmmm. Looks like the green breaks a little to the left…
Meyer: Looks to me like it breaks a little to the right.
Wine X: I got it, I got it.
I steady over my ball. This is harder than it looks on TV.
Wine X: (delaying) What would be some interesting beers to check out if you’re just getting into it?
Meyer: A pumpkin beer. Or Belgian beers would be good, too. Both are full of spice and fairly distinctive.
Wine X: Wines?
Meyer: Wine wise, I’d try cinsault. It’s a nice alternative to pinot noir — a bit bigger and a little more tannic, but a great wine.
Alright, here goes. Concentrate, concentrate. I draw the putter back…
The ball leaves my club. Heading for the hole…
Wine X: Go baby! Go baby!
It goes… IN! The crowd goes wild!
Meyer: Nicely done. Nicely done. Stewart, you can stop dancin’, this isn’t football.
Wine X: I love this game.
I proudly retrieve my ball.
Randy squares his putt. Steadies. Draws the putter back…
Wine X: So do you inhale or exhale when you putt?
Smoothly strokes it. Going… going… IN!
Wine X: Yeah but mine was further.
We take care of the green and move to the next hole.
Needless to say we had a great day. I shot par (golf slang for somewhere near 120), and Randy shot his usual bogie golf.
Wine X: Hey, how much do I owe you for the balls I lost?
Meyer: Consider the first dozen a gift.
Wine X: Do this again some time?
Meyer: Absolutely. Only next time let’s try miniature golf.
Wine X: Deal.