The smell of wine in the air and the blast of air-conditioning welcomed me into Scheid Vineyards tasting room. Along with what seemed like 50 people packed like sardines in the small room. Should we turn and leave or wiggle our way to the tasting bar? I pushed – literally – for the latter. Was the wine really that great for all these people to be here? Or was it simply a new, cool spot to hang out? After my first sip of wine, I understood.
Starting out as growers, selling 100 percent of its production to other wineries until the late 1980’s Scheid Vineyards uses less than 10 percent of the grapes its grows for its Scheid Vineyards label – bottling only the best of the best to craft its wines. The crowded tasting room was testament to this. My interest in Scheid Vineyards was peeked. I needed to learn more. Lucky for me David Nagengast, Scheid Vineyards winemaker agreed to chat with me for Carpe Travel’s Interview with a Winemaker series.
A thank you to David for taking the time and I wanted to wish him congratulations on completing this 30th harvest season this year. Cheers to that!
Interview with a Winemaker: Scheid Vineyards
What is your winemaking philosophy; that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
Our Winemaking philosophy is to accentuate the character of the grape through to the finished wine. We do this with minimal handling, select yeasts, cool fermentation, and judicious use of Oak barrels selected by cooper and oak type to support the wine, but not dominate. The goal is to make wines that are true the grape, and balanced in the mouthfeel.
When did you fall in love with wine? Do you remember the wine that was “the one” that started it all? Is there a story behind it?
For me there was no “epiphany” wine. As I studied Enology at Fresno State, I fell in love with the complexity of the process in making wine. The various sciences that have some influence on the growing of grapes, producing wine, and maturing of the product in the cellar then in the bottle. As I gained more knowledge of the process, and I am still learning daily, I enjoy it even more. Now I enjoy it more as a craft, where I can take those influences from the sciences, marry them with the familiarity of the different effects of selected yeasts, various coopers and oak sources, etc. to support the fruit from various vineyards I have been working with, to make the wines that work best.
Tell me a bit about the history of the winery. Who started it? When was it started? What was the impetus for starting the winery?
Al Scheid founded Scheid Vineyards in 1972. It was originally formed as a limited partnership vineyard investment and 100 percent of the grapes produced were sold to a large winery. We didn’t start making our own bottled wine until the late 80’s and didn’t get really serious about it until a few years after that. By 1997, we had opened our first tasting room in Greenfield at our vineyard and winery headquarters on Highway 101, and we opened our second tasting room in Carmel-by-the-Sea a few years ago.
What types of varietals do you grow? Produce? How many cases?
We grow over 30 different varietals! With 10 estate vineyards covering 4000 acres located along a 70 mile spread, we have the luxury of growing in four very distinct climate zones. It’s the wonder of Monterey that along the 90-mile Salinas Valley, the climate changes quite dramatically from one end to the other, which is what makes this possible. Our primary varietals are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc…but there are many other varietals which we grow very little of that are dear to our heart. Under the Scheid Vineyards label, we bottle about 14,000 cases each vintage.
You have several vineyards, in different regions. Can you explain how the regions are different and how you use this to your advantage in wine production?
Monterey is an amazing place to grow wine grapes. In our northern vineyards, located near Soledad, evening coastal fogs often linger until morning the next day and the cool afternoon winds are very dependable. This is a great spot for growing top quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Just a bit south of that, near the town of Greenfield, we also grow spectacular Chardonnay and Pinot, along with white aromatics such as Riesling and Gewurztraminer. This is also a terrific locale for cool-climate Merlot and Syrah. About 25 miles south, near the town of San Lucas, the days are quite a bit warmer yet the wind still kicks up in the afternoon to cool things down. This is Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc country. And then another 20 miles south of that, we have our Hames Valley region that can get quite warm during the day and quite cold at night. The temperature differential can sometimes be as much as 60 degrees in a 24-hour period. We have found this to be the vineyard sweet spot for extraordinary Petite Sirahs and Petit Verdots. Truly, there seems to be a spot in Monterey County for growing just about any wine grape and our vineyard team likes to tell our winemaking team that they have it very good because they have so much wonderful fruit to choose from!
Scheid Vineyards recently entered into a relationship with Kathie Lee Gifford to produce “Gifft”. Can you explain the type of Chardonnay you’ll be producing with her? Is this different than other wines you’re currently making?
Kathie Lee and our team at Scheid have a common philosophy when it comes to Chardonnay – we want the fruit to shine through, not be masked by too much oak. The Chardonnay is crafted entirely from our estate grown fruit and we utilize French oak very judiciously, to complement the tropical fruit flavors that are the hallmark of Monterey Chards and provide an element of richness and smooth mouthfeel. But the fruit is still there at the forefront, which is important to all of us. It is actually quite similar in style to our Scheid Vineyards Chardonnay – not exactly the same, but with the philosophy that we don’t want the oak to overpower and cover up the beautiful fruit that we toil in the vineyards to grow!
What would you hope people say about your wine?
I hope it is a wine that they would recommend to their friends or bring out on the table to share, for that is the best compliment there is!
When you think about all the work that goes into making a bottle of wine, how much is in growing the grapes vs. vintaging?
I agree with most that the real character of the wine comes from the quality of the grape. The high quality of fruit that I am consistently given to work with at Scheid, makes my job easy, and very rewarding to put out some great wines.
Where do you come down on the cork vs. screw top debate? Why?
I am an absolute believer in screw cap as the better closure for wine. I’ve been extremely happy with the experience we have had at Scheid since we went 100 percent screw cap for the Scheid Vineyards label. The wines take a little longer to get over initial bottle shock, but maintain their character much longer under screw caps.
What are some of your favorite food pairings with your wines?
Roast Turkey with Pinot Noir, Prime Rib with Claret, our Closing Bell dessert wine with assorted cheeses.