Foot of the Bed Cellars in the Cave with Dave!

I tasted through nearly all my barreled wines with Martin and Luc from Foot of the Bed Cellars in San Francisco. Tasting with different palates and different backgrounds can be much more enriching of an experience than doing all the work in solitude.

Photo courtesy of founders Luc and Martin, Foot of the Bed Cellars

Photo courtesy of founders Luc and Martin, Foot of the Bed Cellars

Don’t get me wrong, I like solitude, the opportunity to block out everything and focus on the task; I always have. However, the inputs from others in a controlled setting are enlightening and the nuances others pick up can be more attuned than my own senses.

Photo taken by Luc of Foot of the Bed Cellars

Photo taken by Luc of Foot of the Bed Cellars

Take for instance my Merlot from 2017. Merlot happens to be one of Martin’s favorite varietals (I found out that morning). I didn’t really have a planned experiment in mind when we starting tasting the four barrels of 17 Merlot, but it soon became one of our longest discussions of the tasting. I barreled the merlot down to three new oak barrels, Gamba, Kelvin and Nadale and one neutral. The merlot came from Galloway Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley, harvested and fermented exactly the same, so the only variation is barrel time.

Many in the wine business use the term ‘American oak’ generically and homogenously, which does the American cooper a disservice. American oak is unique, as is French or Hungarian; as are American cooperages and the craftsmen that work the cooperage. In this micro tasting of Merlot, Kelvin cooperage in Kentucky is an American cooperage using American oak exclusively. Gamba is an Italian cooperage using French oak and Nadalie is a French cooperage operating in the United States using American oak. Quite the combination of styles and raw product, but that’s what can help finish a wine, just as one would use mesquite wood to finish a steak instead of cherry or apple wood.

Martin really focused on the Kelvin 36 month medium long Hydra barrel. Kelvin uses a steaming processes during barrel toasting that is incorporated to lengthen the open fire toasting process, thus penetrating deeper into the oak and mellowing harsher oak tannins such as vanillin or the aromatic coconut picked up in many American oak barrels, in the process, greater complexity is achieved for the American oak. I’ve been using Kelvin since 2010 on many a Bordeaux varietal and have been very happy with the results. There are greater baking spice notes, wisps of mocha, and not nearly as much sweet vanilla as you’d get from 24 month Kentucky or Virginia oak.

Photo taken by Luc of Foot of the Bed Cellars

Photo taken by Luc of Foot of the Bed Cellars

While Martin was pondering Kelvin, I was obsessing over the Gamba oak barrel. I initially put the new Gamba Allier forest oak on my 2017 Lencioni Vineyard dry-farmed Cabernet Sauvignon for about 6 months, I racked it off and took the Gamba and put it on my Merlot to finish. The Gamba is opulent and silky with both the Cabernet and the Merlot. Gamba does pack a punch though, and doing some research on Italian cellar technique, brought me to the idea of using the new oak twice in a single vintage, gradually moving from the strongest varietal, Cabernet, to something with less tannin, Merlot. I’ve even considered using this same Gamba barrel a third time in the vintage and aging some Barbera on it for a few months.

The Nadalie barrel was from their proprietary Symphony American oak line. A combination of various American oak forests, the oak is aged in a Pennsylvania yard 36 months minimum, which is the minimum aging that I use for American oak in my program and then final cooperage and toasting is completed in Napa. The barrel is toasted in a long and slow process, just as Kelvin, but without any steam applications. The results on the Merlot show more subtlety of oak on the fruit of the three cooperages, not overpowering the Merlot, but rounding out every edge. It’s likely that the Merlot on Nadalie Symphony is bound for blending and complimenting anything it’s blended with, especially Cabernet or Barbera.

Tasting with different people at various times during the wine aging process gives me a gift of insight I might not otherwise have, noticing nuance. Perhaps tasting with others who appreciate wine as I do also forces me to look at my own barrel program with a more critical perspective, verbalizing the decisions I’ve made and compelling me to make objective judgements about my own winemaking. Wine making is a lifelong learning process of both objective and subjective measures, the clichéd art and science of wine that many aspire to comprehend.

“Do you have a Chardonnay?”

I don’t make Chardonnay, but I do get plenty of questions at wine events.

“Do you make an oaky Chardonnay.”
“Do you make Pinot?”
“This wine is how much!?”
“Where is Cloverdale?”
“What’s your favorite wine?”

Let me do a quick summation. I make 8 to 10 individually stylized wines per season. All the wines are different. Some are blended varietals, or from a single vineyard, or from different appellations. Over the course of two years in oak, each of the wines tastes differently. With every passing moment in time the wine is changing, therefore, what tasted great yesterday has changed today.

My "favorite" wine with Thai Spring Rolls

My "favorite" wine with Thai Spring Rolls

When I bring wines to an event or a dinner, I often bring various vintages, sometimes several vintages of the same label. But once again, each of the wines in a vertical is different. Each taste differently.

What’s my favorite wine?

I make a lot of wines for a lot of different reasons. Is my favorite wine my white wine with Thai spring rolls? Or my 2011 Signature with a rib-eye? Or my 2014 Sangiovese on the deck overlooking Santa Cruz smoking a cigar with my brother? They are all my favorites at the time.

I get asked the “what’s your favorite” at every single event I do. If I said my “favorite wine” was my most expensive wine, I’d probably be accused of simple profiteering. If I choose my least expensive wine, perhaps I'm being overly modest? If I say all of my wines are my favorite, that’s not an answer.

The “what’s your favorite wine” question is right up there with “if you could only eat one food the rest of your life, what would it be?”  As much as I love pizza, pasta, and Thai green curry, I couldn’t eat one of those every day. I’d die of boredom.

I love pasta, but not all the time

I love pasta, but not all the time

At events, if I get the favorite wine question from a taster and I have the time to walk through the wines with them, I will pour every wine I have, even the behind the counter stuff. I will also not say much of anything about the wines to the individuals asking the question. I purposely leave out descriptors. I want the person asking the question to reach their own conclusions without my bias. If you like my most expensive wine, great! If you like my least expensive wine, great! If you like my single vineyard 100% Cabernet, fabulous.

And if you really don’t like any of the wines, that’s fine too. I’m sure there’s an over-oaked Chardonnay or Pinot with mega-purple out there that you’ve been drinking for 10 years to declare your favorite.

Learning about American Oak

American Oak is not the boogeyman!

I've been fortunate enough to hear Ridge winemaker Eric Baugher speak at Fresno State a couple times. Yes, we get to try his wines from the estate property in the Santa Cruz mountains and the Lytton Springs wines as well, but just hearing the stories and his insights are invaluable moments not just for the students, but for me as well.

One thing that I've focused on during his presentations is the use of American oak on Ridge wines. It's a methodical examination of American oak on Ridge wines over decades. Not anecdotes of American oak usage, but example after example of the how and why of American oak.

Too many American winemakers simply dismiss American oak as an inferior product, or are bemused by American oak as they speak of some deep forest in France they've never visited. Sadly, consumers buy into the simple notion that there is nothing beyond aging American wine in French oak.


Currently, I use a mix of American, French and Hungarian oak for aging my red wines. A majority of the oak I use is American. The American oak comes from various forests in Minnesota, Kentucky, Missouri, and Pennsylvania. The oak from these forests can be cured/aged between two and four years before final toasting and assembly into wine barrels. Toasting is another factor in the flavor profile of wine, as the toasting length, depth and methodology is different at each cooperage and can be specified by the client (me).

John Scheidt barrel tasting

John Scheidt barrel tasting

I'm always learning more about the barrels I use and the coopers I choose for my wines. Even the ritual steam cleaning technique that I use on my barrels effects longevity, malolactic fermentation, and flavor profile.

Various combinations of forest, grain, machine or hand-cut wood, cooperage, toasting level, age of oak, head and stave combinations, type of varietal and length of time in barrel all effect a winemaker's decision process. Nothing is static. The days of a lower-quality homogeneous coconut-vanilla pronounced American oak are behind many American winemakers who have chosen to demand better and by working with American cooperages to develop world-class American barrels for our best wines.


2015 Starts at the Beach then heads to the Mountains

After driving just around 40,000 road miles in the state of California in 2014 (unfortunately there is no 1K Club for driving), I've already started logging the miles in 2015; ringing in the New Year in Santa Barbara and then heading to the East Side and Mammoth Lakes to round out my first weekend in 2015.

New Years Eve Menu 2014...Tuna / Twice Baked Potato / Whole Loin of Beef

New Years Eve Menu 2014...Tuna / Twice Baked Potato / Whole Loin of Beef

A totally relaxed evening with friends over dinner and Cards Against Humanity for NYE. A real pleasure to drink several wines that night reinforcing a wine can taste great, age gracefully and use AMERICAN oak...Silver Oak Napa Valley 1997 and 2004 both tasted spot on (there's a reason Silver Oak is the #1 selling wine in American steak houses and it's a lesson learned).

And yes, I drink every wine I come across, not just mine. We also had a terrific Blair Fox Syrah (Los Olivos) and Stoller Pinot Noir (Oregon).

The East Side

It was off to Mammoth Lakes and the East Side to cook and take in the final performance of the Winter Wonderettes at The Edison Theatre...and maybe, just maybe catch some snow (not ice).

Had a full house for Saturday night dinner at the East Side Bake Shop, knocking out one El Super Burrito after another. As usual, the Saturday Night Bluegrass Jam was in full effect, with a solid group of players, elements of Bodie 601 and Sweetwater String Band and lots of familiar faces I'm getting to know.

More music on Sunday, with the final show of the season of The Winter Wonderettes at The Edison Theater. Friends from Bluegrass Night and the Mammoth Lakes Foundation (Juliana and Shira I'm talking about you!!!) kept encouraging me to take a front row seat for the performance, which made me slightly suspicious. I admit, I'm happy to take a great seat, but the coaxing led me to believe something was up.


Sure enough, Wonderette Missy (a.k.a. Kristin Reese from Bodie 601) points to me in the crowd as "Bill...her husband" and we did a short dance number in Act 1. 

However, Act 2 of the performance required "Bill" to step up on stage, wear a Santa hat and sit in The Big Chair (think Santa and The Big Chair). The Wonderette's surround me and sing a rather entertaining "Santa Baby"...but wait there's more! The Wonderettes then wheel the chair under the mistletoe...and well...

Welcome to 2015! 


Custom Recycled Wine Barrel Tops

In the spirit of American Choppers and Monster Garage, Mastro Scheidt Family Cellars brings you American Monster Workshop Backyard Creations by T.L. Scheidt.

Custom projects are always the most difficult. Clients want things "just right". Finding that Goldilocks moment is frustrating and often iterative for the creator and the buyer, which is why custom projects come at a higher price. Custom projects are unique, one-of-a-kind creations. But these days, with highly manufactured templates, the value of the true craftsman has been diminished and marginalized for lower-priced, poorly built knockoffs found in a magazine with free shipping.

Masonry, carpentry, and welding are all combined in this one piece. Additionally, special tools for fabrication are needed as is the skill to use them with each trade. Multiple layers of sanding, setting and staining just to have the oak prepared are needed to start the project. Finding higher quality oak barrels is even difficult these days, as many have been turned into planter boxes or oak chips for the BBQ.

To all of our custom clients...WE THANK YOU!