Our Story

Sunset behind palm trees and a house at Great Bear Vineyard

Our passion is to grow the highest quality grapes and make superb wines. We made our home in a beautiful setting on the northern edge of Davis, with a homestead, barn and gardens that date back to 1860.

The site was chosen for its perfect terroir, with soils similar to those of the valley floor in Napa and with hot days and cool nights. We are able to produce grapes with intense flavor and wines of distinction.

Dark, ripe, purple grapes
Great Bear Vineyards wine barrel with two glasses of red wine on top
Red wine being poured into a glass in front of a wooden wine barrel

We are keen naturalists, and have strong a desire to improve the environment. We encourage owls and other birds of prey to nest in the barns, water towers and trees. We take joy in the wildflowers that grow throughout the farm and vineyard. We love to watch the jack rabbits, squirrels and gofers that make their home with us, and enjoy the regular nighttime visits from coyotes. We practice no-till in the vineyard to help develop a better microbiome with beneficial microbes that contribute to the health of our vines. We grow a cover crop in the vine rows to draw water away from vines to reduce vigor and create a habitat for wildlife.

Long earred jack rabbit in grass
California wild flowers
Young owl and mature owl sitting closely in a tree

Terroir is the characteristic taste and flavor imparted to a wine by the environment in which it is produced. The terroir includes the soil, topography and climate, but also the people. Great Bear vineyard is located on the northern edge of the university town of Davis, the globally recognized center of expertise for viticulture and winemaking. Many of the local experts from University of California, Davis and the surrounding wineries of Napa, Sonoma and Winters have helped Jenny and Marcus Meadows-Smith with advice and support to establish their vineyard, grow excellent grapes and make fine wines in Yolo County at Great Bear Vineyards.

Jenny in a hat and flannel shirt with a handful of cut lavender
Marcus in gloves and a flannel shirt harvest grapes between vines
Mike with arm resting on vine trellis in a grey sweater and pants

The Team

Jenny is the winemaker. A graduate of the UC Davis Wine-Making certificate program, Jenny has worked with several local winemakers over the past years to rapidly build her knowledge and skill as a winemaker. Having travelled to many wineries around the world from Europe, Australia and South Africa, as well as those closer to home in California, she has developed a flair and style that goes into the Great Bear wines. 

Marcus is the assistant winemaker and works in the vineyard. On the day Marcus was born, his dad was picking the fruit for the wine drunk at Marcus’s 21st birthday party. Marcus has worked in agriculture his whole career traveling to all the great wine regions of the world. He moved to California to become the CEO of AgraQuest a biopesticide company that supplies beneficial microbial products to the organic and premium wineries. In this role he was instrumental in leading the wider adoption of biopesticides globally thereby reducing reliance on synthetic pesticides and chemical load on the environment. Marcus is a passionate advocate of sustainable farming and the environment.

Mike Anderson is the viticulture consultant. Mike was head of UC Davis Research Station at Oakville in Napa, where he managed grape production and research projects into viticulture. Mike designed the vineyard spacing, layout and trellising system at Great Bear Vineyards to maximize the quality of the fruit. He guides the management of the vineyard with minimal input and deficit irrigation, and provides instruction for the hand pruning, leaf pulling, cluster thinning, and harvesting.

Great Bear Vineyards is a family affair with the 4 children — Holly, Cara, Ruth and Michael — and Grandma Joy, assisting in many aspects of the vineyard and winery from picking and inspecting grapes to photography and website design.

Small green and yellow bird on a weed