New York, New York Steak

I just ate 10 steaks in one hour!

Recently, I was asked to evaluate 10 different cuts of steak from two different beef suppliers for an upcoming restaurant opening. All of the beef was Certified Angus or Prime and all the steaks were prepared the same way (salt and pepper over a flame grill) by chef Tommy Chavez. I paired each steak with three of my wines, 2014 Cab Franc, 2014 Superstrada (Sangiovese/Cab Sav) and 2015 RWSC (Bordeaux Blend).

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What did I learn?

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First, that I consumed about 3 pounds of beef! More importantly, not all steaks are created equally and no two steaks paired equally well with the same wine. All the steaks were delicious, as it’s difficult to go wrong with prime steaks expertly cooked, but there were differences in texture, density, ‘meaty’ flavor, chew, tenderness, and fat content.

The most dramatic difference in flavor, texture and wine pairing was a prime bone-in New York strip (Club steak) versus the prime boneless NY strip.

My 2014 Cabernet Franc and 2014 Superstrada paired nicely with the boneless NY strip. Complimentary flavors, the steak was lean and well textured, my wines integrated well with this classic restaurant cut.

Change gears to a longer cooked bone-in NY strip a.k.a. Club steak and suddenly the integration of the wine with the steak changed. The bone itself was flat and nearly 2 inches wide and covered the length of the strip, which effected cooking time. Whatever the bone and cooking time did to change the flavor profile of the steak was dramatic enough to favor a more tannic and heavy-weight wine. The Cab Franc didn’t have enough heft or tannin to hold up to the Club steak. Superstrada was good, but showed better with other steaks.

Enter the 2015 RWSC.

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The 2015 RWSC is my 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc from Dry Creek and Alexander Valley, with a 50% new Minnesota 36 month medium toast water bent oak and 50% neutral oak profile. Yes, I’m being very specific about my oak. Simply calling it “American oak” is an inadequate generalization.

While the 15 RWSC paired well with nearly every steak in the line-up (except perhaps the filet mignon where the wine overwhelmed the lean cut), it shined with the Club steak. This is where some combination of alchemy, meat sweats, and badly needing a plate of fries might be affecting my palate, but it was an enlightening moment in the tasting. How could one wine and one steak pair so well together? Why is this pairing so outstanding? This isn’t just me bragging about my wine. I’m sure other wines would have paired wonderfully, but in that moment, with those selections, the RWSC shined bright.

Next time I’m asked to evaluate steaks, I’m bringing more wine.

Maestro Meme Monday

Alliteration and Memes are fun to use, so the Maestro Meme Monday was born.

You may have noticed some self-depricating humor recently on the Mastro Scheidt Instagram account, depicting me and my father in some photos over the last few seasons. What often makes a meme funny is that the meme is true. I can tell you for certain, the phrases and expressions in these memes are true and have been thought about or said aloud.

We hope you enjoy them throughout 2018, every Monday, for Maestro Meme Monday.

Where can I make natural wine?

You want to make a natural wine? Good. But where are you allowed to make it?

I make a few natural/low/no intervention wines each season. One of my more popular wines is Sangiovese. It will typically (because nothing is typical in a native ferment) start native fermentation within 24 hours of being destemmed. After fermentation and press out, the wine is placed in clean (steam cleaned), neutral oak for a period of between 9-20 months, where it will be racked once, regularly topped and minimally sulfured during that time. That’s it.

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Sangiovese was the first native fermentation I ever allowed to complete. I was scared to have a native fermentation go poorly or just plain bad. As a boutique winery under 2000 cases, I can ill-afford mistakes for such a substantial part of my winemaking program. Throwing away 5 tons of fruit is simply not an option for me.

Are you new around here?

Suppose you’re a new winemaker in Sonoma County who would like to make a natural rose’, white and red wine. You have your vision and your manifesto for making a great natural wine. You want to use ancient fermenting vessels like amphora, egg shaped fermenters, and 500 liter wood barrels. You want spontaneous native fermentations and in-barrel malolactic fermentations.

The boutique winemaker has three choices:

1.       Make wine at your own facility (lucky you that you have all the equipment)

2.       Make wine at a custom crush facility (Alternating Proprietor Type 2)

3.       Make wine on the side at the winery you probably work for (You probably have a nice employer)

 A brief break during Harvest 2017 of dry-farmed Cabernet Sauvignon in Dry Creek Valley

A brief break during Harvest 2017 of dry-farmed Cabernet Sauvignon in Dry Creek Valley

Everyone has access to a concrete egg fermenter, right?

The debate about natural wine often misses the point of what’s practical in making, storing and maintaining the actual wine in a modern custom crush facility, (aka a facility you don’t own and make wine with as many as 40 other winemakers). As a winemaker with a Type 2 license I am an alternating proprietor at the custom crush facility and abide by the rules of the host facilities wine making protocols or suffer the consequences. For instance, I can't operate the forklift or bring in barrels that have tested for brettanomyces.

Here’s a quick list of 5 things you might want to know about custom crush facilities before you embark on your natural wine journey:

1.       Regularly testing of oak barrels for brettanomyces and volatile acidity by the cellar master. The Cellar Master may remove barrels with unacceptable levels or not allow used barrels you’ve purchased into the cellar. Consolidating your natural wines into a single facility for bottling and efficiency may be stopped at the door after laboratory testing because your existing bulk inventory may have unacceptable levels of VA or brett detected and are rejected by the cellar master. Unacceptable levels may be determined by the custom crush facility, not you. Remember, there may be other winemakers in the custom crush that don’t want any hint of brett in their wines.

2.       Does the cellar master use a combination steam/ozone/SO2 to clean their barrels and yours before filling them?  Standard protocols in many custom crush facilities require monthly monitoring of free sulfur levels in finished wines and regular sulfur (SO2) additions to finished wines in barrel. Topping schedules are completed monthly.

3.       Access to amphoras, concrete cone fermenters, large format exotic wooden casks or other non-standard fermenters. The facility may not have use or budget for less common fermentation vessels.  As the start-up winemaker, you may not have the budget to buy your own less common fermentation vessel, therefore, you will use standard plastic macro bins for small lots. If you buy your own fermentation vessel and use it at a custom crush facility, who holds liability for the proper care, use and potential damage to a concrete egg or clay amphora?

4.      Extended macerations on white wines take up tank space, add time and labor costs to production

5.       Gravity feeding wines without the use of a pumps takes more time, which means more labor and not all facilities are built for “100% gravity fed” wines.

Just some food for thought for those considering the natural wine route.

Tasting the Top 100 Wines

I've been to a lot of wine tastings over the years but none have compared to tasting the Top 100 wines of 2017, as rated by Wine Spectator. It's true, all 100 wines were available to taste over a 4 hour period. Special thanks to my friend (since grammar school!) Joe and his friend Janet for asking me to join them.

 The end of the Wine Spectator Top 100 Tasting

The end of the Wine Spectator Top 100 Tasting

Where does one start?

Our host, Brander Winery, starts guests off with opening the white wine section first, then, an hour later, opens up the red wine area. Many of the participants tasted in numerical order, from highest to lowest rated whites (without regard to varietal) then immediately moving to the highest to lowest rated red wines, again, without regard to varietal.

I took a different approach, sampling the wines by varietal, lightest to heaviest, regardless of score, starting with lighter bodied white wine, such as Albarino and finishing with heavier, oak-laden, malolactic Chardonnay. Same process for the reds, starting with Pinot and graduating to things like Tannat near the end of the journey. 

It's tougher with reds on a progression from light to heavy bodied structures. Fully developed Zinfandel with a solid punch of oak can be a palate wrecker just as easily as Touriga Nacional late in the game.

For many, simply tasting the Top 10 wines was the most important duty. I tried the Number 1 wine, Duckhorn Merlot. It's $50 retail per bottle. There was another merlot in the group from Oberon in the Top 100. Between the two, I favored the Oberon, ranked 77 with a retail price of $23. These lists really come down to a matter of taste.

It's also not a good idea to drink French Bordeaux side-by-side with California Cabernet. Sure, Bordeaux/Napa wines are based on Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Merlot but they are vastly different in terms of style and construction. Take for instance the #7 wine, Château Canon-La Gaffelière St.-Emilion which is Merlot dominant at 55% versus the #8 wine, Meyer Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley which is generally Cabernet Sauvignon dominant. Both the Château Canon-La Gaffelière and the Meyer rated 95 points, so there is no loser.

I loved the Château Canon-La Gaffelière and tasted it twice, both early and late in the tasting to check on my palate fatigue. It was one of my favorite wines of the day. It's classic, layered, elegant and young for a wine. The Meyer was a rich, opulent Napa style from the warmer climate (same warm climate my grapes come from) It's easy to reconcile, sweet fruit tastes good young, and Meyer delivers. 

While sharing common varietals, Bordeaux and Napa Cab/Merlot based wines are grown on different continents. They might as well grow on different planets. One should enjoy each of these regional wines, but not compare them. Too often, toe-to-toe comparisons happen with ratings. I purposely picked two Bordeaux varietal wines at similar price points and exactly the same rating to make the point. You can like them both equally for very different reasons.

There are notes on several of my favorite wines from the tasting in the gallery of pictures. Incredibly educational, it was a privilege to participate in the event.

The Shameless Winemaker

Winemakers the world over can write manifestos and mission statements until their heads explode, but in the words of Mike Tyson, "everyone comes into the ring with a plan, until they get hit."

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So imagine getting hit with requests from consumers to add lemon lime soda to your wines? Sound crazy? It's not. In fact, it happens to me at nearly every large event.

How about a wine glass filled full of ice for a $50 Cabernet? It's happened. Not everyone lives in a cool climate. Take my hometown, Fresno, California. It gets hot, real hot, in summertime, 110 degrees hot and it 'cools' down at night to 92 degrees around 11pm. Who wants to drink Cabernet for dinner? Virtually no one.

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People pay good money for my wines at tailgates, festivals, events and parties throughout the year. As much as I like my wines without residual sugar or sweetness, not everyone does. What's the easiest way to add sugar to a finished wine? Add your favorite lemon lime soda. What's the easiest way to cool down some wine? Add ice.

I now come equipped with both Lemon Lime soda and a couple bags of ice to almost every event I participate in and I'm making more people happy.

Listen up winemakers, we all have a plan, until we get hit.

New Releases and Sold Out Wines

A few updates after a busy fourth quarter:

Sold OUT
2015 Sangiovese, Sonoma County
2015 Sangiovese Vecchio
2015 Cabernet Sauvignon DCV

Allocated (Contact me Directly)
2014 Signature, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley
2014 1TL, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mill Creek Road

New Release
2014 Cabernet Franc, Sonoma County
2016 Sangiovese, Sonoma County
2016 Cabernet Sauvignon DCV
2016 Zinfandel, Sonoma County
2015 Pinot Noir, Sonoma County

Expected Release
2017 Rose of Sangiovese, February 14, 2018
2017 The Hunter, White Wine, February 14, 2018
2016 Sangiovese Vecchio, June 2018

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Happy New Year! Here's to a great 2018!

The Road to Expensive Non-Vintage Red Wine: Thanks Penfolds!

I’d like to take this opportunity on behalf of all winemakers to thank Penfolds for making a non-vintage red wine and charging $3000 a bottle for it.

Winemakers around the world have been greatly anticipating charging $3000 a bottle for non-vintage red wine.

 An American example of non-vintage wine, the Mastro Scheidt Jug! It only costs $39 and it's nearly 1.89L. You should buy some.

An American example of non-vintage wine, the Mastro Scheidt Jug! It only costs $39 and it's nearly 1.89L. You should buy some.

$39 or $3000?

Oh wait…I have been doing it for years. It's called The Jug (yep, that's the label above. It's good wine. Really good). I've been combining vintages to make a consistent blend for over 5 years now, but not charging $3000 for the bottle. Stupid me. I charge $39.

When winemakers combine vintages like they have at Penfolds, it becomes a non-vintage wine, generally regarded as inferior by critics for still red wines. Unlike port and champagne, which are regularly blended across multiple vintages and considered a mark of quality, blending red wines across vintages has long been considered the practice of corporate wineries using 1 gallon and up packaging.

Super Blend or Just Red Wine?

Penfolds of Australia produces the world famous Grange by blending Shiraz (Syrah) with some Cabernet Sauvignon (in most years). A long heralded wine and deservingly so. With the G3, they’ve taken a long held philosophy of Aristotle, that the “sum is greater than the parts”, combining three vintages of Grange together in a single bottling, or as Penfolds called it, “a super-blend” and thus, charging more than any single bottling would cost.

From my own experience blending wines from multiple vintages, the “super-blend” of wines can be beneficial in a few ways. First, a young wine lacking depth and structure is given a boost from a wine that is older, as the older wine has had time to mature. Secondly, the older wine is ‘refreshed’ by the younger wine with more vibrant fruit and freshness. Thirdly, if the wines have been on new oak, the interactions between the wine, oak and time, depending upon the oak origin, can have a whole combination of various results on the finished wine that add a layer of complexity not otherwise derived from the wine itself.

A true test of greatness would be to try each individual vintage of Grange that comprise the G3 super-blend; 2008, 2012 and 2014 side-by-side with the G3. That tasting would cost just under $6000, if you can get your allocation of G3. I’d love to taste it.

I raise my glass to Penfolds and offer a toast to them for getting $3000 a bottle for a non-vintage Shiraz. May we all be so lucky.

Now go buy my Jug for $39!!!

The California Appellation Designation: The Future of Boutique Winery Success?

The California appellation designation on a bottle of wine has long carried a negative connotation. Wine can be sourced and blended from anywhere in California, usually from the cheapest regions of the state and then packaged in a box or large format bottle.

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Enter Dave Phinney.

Dave Phinney, creator of The Prisoner and Orin Swift offers a guiding light to reinterpret and reposition the California designation. We can debate the Phinney wine making style; not the sales results. Phinney sourced The Prisoner (now owned by Constellation) like many winemakers have for years, from all over California. Constellation has announced that The Prisoner Wine Company will have its own tasting room replacing Franciscan Estate in the heart of Napa Valley.

Orin Swift, now owned by Gallo, forever changed the landscape with California appellation wine designations garnering a premium price with the likes of Trigger Finger, Abstract, and Machete. Brilliant! Judging by commercial success alone, the Orin Swift and Prisoner wine business models are successful.

The new California wine model is focused more on the word California than whether you are a new or old style of winemaker, or whether or not you use a specific varietal or vineyard or what appellation the grapes are from.

Can I borrow $8000 for a ton of Cabernet?

Using the California labeling designation to its fullest extent, as Phinney has done, is one option for the boutique winemaker’s to grow and flourish. How much $5000/ton Pinot from Russian River can a micro winemaker buy each year? Or $8000/ton Cabernet from Napa? How long can a small winery float that money before they have to have positive cash flow? One season? Two?

By using the broad California appellation designation, a wine maker can use grapes from any part of the state. Early ripening, colorful, fruity and less expensive ($650/ton) Petite Sirah from District 13 (Fresno/Madera) combined with slightly more expensive ($1200/ton) Tempranillo in the Foothills (Amador/El Dorado) and finished off with some average priced Cabernet Sauvignon ($3200/ton) from the North Coast Appellation (Lake/Mendocino/Sonoma) and voilà, California Red Wine is made.

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The micro winemaker would then make wines from each individual vineyard, say a vineyard designate Cabernet from Alexander Valley and sum of each appellation, a Sonoma County Cabernet or a foothills Tempranillo. A vineyard designate Cabernet from Alexander Valley and a Red Blend from California can both be made at the same time in the same location. Your harvest may start earlier and end later than most regionally specific wineries like Napa or Sonoma only, but your average costs will be lower.

The successful new California winemaker is the same as the successful old California winemaker, source quality fruit at the best prices from throughout the state and make a great wine that people will buy. Perhaps, easier said than done, but Phinney gave us all a model for success.

Dirty Jobs, Wine Making and Sausage

I talk about the dirty job of making wine every season. Other than people in the wine industry, no one else sees all the stuff that gets cleaned every day with brushes, pressure washers, hot water, acidic and caustic liquids. All the public sees is a bottle with a cork in it and a really good looking winemaker (like me) pouring it.

 Good looking winemaker...David Scheidt

Good looking winemaker...David Scheidt

Behind the scenes of the dirty job of wine making 2017.

 After 5 tons of grapes are destemmed, this is what the machine looks like

After 5 tons of grapes are destemmed, this is what the machine looks like

 The shaker table is a tool for sorting grapes. Look at all the debris around the table.

The shaker table is a tool for sorting grapes. Look at all the debris around the table.

 Every nook and cranny must be cleaned after grapes are processed

Every nook and cranny must be cleaned after grapes are processed

 More debris and MOG, Material Other than Grapes

More debris and MOG, Material Other than Grapes

 These jeans will never be blue again.

These jeans will never be blue again.

 Compost and more compost of stems and bad berries

Compost and more compost of stems and bad berries

 Green grape leaves are unwanted and are picked out in the vineyard and the crush pad

Green grape leaves are unwanted and are picked out in the vineyard and the crush pad

 Someone has to get in these tanks to shovel out all the must for press loads

Someone has to get in these tanks to shovel out all the must for press loads

 Sluggish fermentation? No problems. Adding some still active lees will help finish things off

Sluggish fermentation? No problems. Adding some still active lees will help finish things off