When Dr. Carole Meredith was interviewed for the documentary, “SOMM: Into the Bottle” she shot off a one liner about the wine industry, “Can there be any other business where there’s so much bullshit?” It summed up so well what so many already think that they ran it in the trailers for the film with a well-placed bleep.

But Dr. Meredith isn’t just a Mark Twain of pithy wine statements, obviously. Prior to the film, she had gained international fame in the wine community for her genetic findings as to the parentage and origin of various grapes. Her first well-known finding came in 1996 when she proved that Cabernet Sauvignon was a cross of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. There have been many others including one of the more exotic that both Zinfandel in California and Primitivo in Italy were originally from Croatia where the grape is known as Tribidrag or Crljenak Kaštelanski.

These days she makes wine full-time with her husband, Steve Lagier from the vineyards they own in the Mount Veeder AVA of Napa Valley under the name, Lagier-Meredith. They were some of the lucky ones in the disastrous fires that burned around 85,000ha. “No damage to house. Some vines burned, fences down, no water or power. Manageable challenges”, she tweeted on October 17th, 2017. Shortly before the fires, she talked at length about her career and what she’s seen in the modern evolution of both making and selling wine as a small producer in a crowded market.

They planted their vines in 1994 which, by 1998 resulted in just under 900 bottles that they sold locally mainly through word of mouth. “We sent a few emails to people we knew who in turn sent them to others. I guess it was being ‘viral’ back then.” They’ve remained small in the following years with just 2ha of vines now comprised of Syrah, Mondeuse Noir, Zinfandel, and Malbec. “Mostly we have Syrah because we like it, but started planting the others because well, we got bored.”

Even though their total production is quite small for Napa Valley, it still needs to be sold. “Our email list kept growing over the years and now it’s several thousand which accounts for 70% of our sales. The other 30% is usually wholesale to the trade with local restaurants in Napa.”

For those who may not know, Dr. Meredith is quite active online, “With social media I get to take pictures and call it ‘marketing’, so Instagram (@lagiermeredith) is what I like to use the most. It helps us to be on people’s minds and be interested in our story.”

Dr. Meredith finds a great deal of personal enjoyment in the medium which is a common refrain from many winemakers active in social media. But does it actually help to sell wine? “I can see that some people I have interacted with on social media subscribe to our mailing list out of curiosity, but they don’t buy anything as a direct result of seeing us in social media. What really sells the wine is the mailing list blasts we do about 3-4 times a year.”

The Lagier-Meredith wines are on the list of the recently-opened wine bar/restaurant, Compline in the downtown area of Napa. One of the partners is Matt Stamp who has a solid following on various social media channels [Please note: Mr Stamp is now a suspended Master Sommelier following disturbing revelations that came to light in October 2020]. In the wine industry there is a focus on the “celebrity sommelier” at the moment but Dr. Meredith sees that their reach works in a different manner than with other types of so-called influencers. “Celebrity sommeliers don’t influence consumers like celebrity chefs do. Their influence is more downstream with the sommeliers at the 2nd and 3rd tier who admire them. What they post is picked up by others in the trade because everyone wants to have the coolest and most obscure wine list.”

As she fully retired from teaching in 2003 and she and her husband do all the work on their vineyards, Dr. Meredith has largely stepped back from flying around the world to give talks on her research or lead tastings. She now works to communicate in a selective manner what they’re doing up on their ridge of the Mount Veeder.

She’s adamant about the need for face time in the wine industry but cautions that it needs to be done wisely. “We used to do big tastings with lots of people. You’d see the same people year after year so you were left asking, where were the new people? So, we stopped doing all of that. Now we focus on a couple of smaller tastings, specifically for our Mount Veeder appellation, focusing on the identity. We go on the road a little bit but mainly we do just what’s needed for people to find us. Otherwise they can go and enjoy my pictures on Instagram.”