New Vintage, New Closure

Like many wine makers and wine drinkers, the belief that “cork is best” for all wines is a conceit. As I’ve grown in both experience and case production over the last ten years, natural cork is not the only wine closure in the marketplace.

I made the jump to screw caps several years ago upon the introduction of my Jug program. No one seemed to mind that I used a screw cap for a growler of wine. In fact, the screw cap fit the image of the wine and the growler package.

The next use of screw caps were for more traditionally bottled wines, the classic Bordeaux styled 750ml bottle that has had wide success in restaurants, delis, and grocery stores. The wines are typically served by-the-glass and easy to open and close in restaurant settings or purchased for nightly home consumption with a wide array of foods. I’ve increased production in the screw cap category, so I don’t see that screw caps have been perceived negatively by consumers.

Natural cork and the Diam technical cork

Natural cork and the Diam technical cork

The most recent evolution in packaging is the technical cork. Nearly 100% natural cork, the closure is guaranteed to be free of “cork taint”; whereas traditional cork cannot make the same claim. Secondly, technical corks have been engineered to allow oxygen through the closure over time, similar to traditional cork, which allows for micro-oxidation of the wine, a beneficial characteristic for age worthy wines like Cabernet Sauvignon. Thirdly, you pull the technical cork with the same traditional corkscrew; no special equipment needed.

What crystalized my decision to move to technical corks was an experience I had with a restaurant customer of mine.  I was pouring a flight of wines for spring and summer at a restaurant in Fresno. When the owner and I got to the second wine, we both knew instantly the wine was corked. Not good. I’m embarrassed and the wine, even if he wanted to pour it in the restaurant, couldn’t be evaluated properly and therefore wasn’t chosen as a finalist.

As I’m looking to innovate where I can, I made a partial transition to technical corks with some of my 2015 wines. The main reason for me transitioning to technical corks was zero cork taint. Imagine buying one of my wines for $50 only to open the bottle and find the smell of wet cardboard. Disappointing. With technical cork, having a wine damaged by cork taint is not a possibility. With my 2016 vintage, I should be 100% screw cap and technical taint free cork.

It was a big decision to move away from traditional cork. I like the history, tradition and nostalgia of traditional cork. But from a customer viewpoint, the remote possibility of having a flawed bottle of wine because of cork taint in the 21st century isn’t nostalgic, it’s unacceptable.

Look for the new corks in my 2015 RWSC label, Superstrada 2015, and Cabernet Franc 2015.

Christmas Feast Part 2

While I tend to believe that Christmas starts and ends with eating only ravioli and meatballs with a glass of Cabernet, there are others in the family that may not be as enthusiastic or set in their ways as I am.

So, several dishes for Christmas are made for the other 30 or so people that come over for dinner. A long-time favorite at Thanksgiving and Christmas is our grilled and sherry braised turkey. Now, don't get me wrong, I love our grilled turkey. I love using my cast iron Dutch oven to cook the whole 20 pound bird in, basically a version of Poulet en Cocotte. But turkey speaks Thanksgiving to me, not Christmas. 

Poulet en Cocotte

Anyway, cooking the turkey on Christmas is just a good excuse to burn a lot of oak staves, sit outside, drink Sangiovese (which pairs well with turkey, I do pick at the bird when I'm carving it) and utilize my Dutch oven. 

Mastro_Scheidt_BBQ_ Turkey

There is a vegan option (no one in my family is vegan, but my family does seem to like this gross blob of jelly): Canned Cranberry. I have no wine recommendations for canned cranberry and never will.

Vegan Option

There is a gluten-free option (no one in my family is gluten-free, we are more like Gluten Plus): Potatoes and Yams.

Christmas Feast

Tradition is the theme for Christmas at Mastro Scheidt, with emphasis on the MASTRO (Translation:Italian Tradition). 

Dough_roller_form_ravioli

Ravioli are traditionally made each year specifically for Christmas. Sure ravioli could be made any time of year, but the holiday requires that a very specific type of ravioli be made...the little ones. The filling (pictured below) is a combination of veal, beef, and spinach with onions pulsed separately in the Cuisinart and then blended together by hand.

Ravioli filling.png

Most ravioli you see in restaurants these days are larger, one ravioli can be roughly half the size of a new iPhone. But to my Southern Italian relatives, "those big ravioli have too much dough and not enough filling". 

mastro_scheidt_ravioli_filling

Without question, the smaller ravioli are a little more difficult to make, using only a rolling pin, a ravioli form roller, and traditional cutter, every step of the process is hand-made. No machines, no fancy pasta roller, nothing but shoulder and tricep power rolling.

The results?

Mastro_Scheidt_Ravioli_Christmas

Merry Christmas! Yes, I was drinking my Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon with my Christmas meal.

 

2014 Harvest Report

The 2014 Harvest has almost come to a close for Mastro Scheidt Cellars. A few loose ends to tie off and we'll have barreled down another season. A wide variety of grapes picked again this season, with Cabernet Sauvignon the leading varietal by tonnage picked.

Many people ask us, "Do you pick your own grapes?"

The answer is...ABSOLUTELY!

Our proprietor and winemaker, David Scheidt personally hauled and picked over 3 tons this year from 3 different vineyards sites, including our 7th Vine Cabernet Sauvignon. He was helped in the vineyard on numerous occasions by his father T.L. and his brother John. We even recruited one of our close friends, Jason, to assist in the vineyard this season. Thanks to everyone who helped with harvest this year.

A series of pictures detailing the process of the 2014 Harvest are included in the Gallery: 2014 Harvest

Dove Day and Dinner

Opening Day

12 gauge shotgun shell

12 gauge shotgun shell

It has been two full seasons since I've hunted dove on opening day with my family and friends. It's a tradition that spans nearly 30 years for me and longer for others. 

T.L. Opening Day

T.L. Opening Day

Dove hunting is an early morning affair, starting with a 4:30am wake-up call with the last shot fired at sundown. Sundown marks the end of shooting, but not the end of the day. After the drive home, cleaning the dove and getting dinner started for several hungry hunters is of primary importance.

Results of the hunt

Results of the hunt

My family has been cooking dove three different ways for as long as I can remember:

1. Doves in Red Tomato Sauce

2. Doves in a Stew Pot with carrots, celery and herbs

3. Doves wrapped in Bacon and grilled on the BBQ

Dove Stew...a.k.a Dove recipe #2

Dove Stew...a.k.a Dove recipe #2

This season, I took matters into my own hands and asked Chef Chris Shackelford to prepare dove recipe for me in a more refined, restaurant style. No rules. No guidelines. Just Chef following his desires. Oh, and I dropped the dove off earlier that morning and said I'd be back for dinner later. 

Chef Chris has prepared quail, antelope, elk, venison, and wild boar so dove was just one more 'exotic' to play with.

Please excuse the picture as it's overexposed, but what you see is the result of dove as prepared by Chris ... Roulade of Dove. Fun. Technical. Totally Different.

Trelio_dove

My first bites of dove instantly brought me back to southern Italy, to a One Star Michelin restaurant in Puglia, Al Fornello da Ricci.  (dish pictured below) Why? The infusion of flavor directly into the meat. Bay leaf and sage elements were present, but not overpowering. A sweetness was also present, rather than a gamey quality. Dove is a gamey meat. Dove eat seeds in all forms that translate into dense grassy, earthy flavors. Chef Shackelford crafted a dish that turned gamey into sweet herb infusion and I thank him for it.

Al Fornello da Ricci duo of rabbit and lamb

Al Fornello da Ricci duo of rabbit and lamb

I thank Chris not just for transporting me back to Italy, I thank Chef Shackelford for thinking out-of-the-box about game and fowl and presenting a dish with elegance and flavor befit for a Michelin starred restaurant.

THANKS AGAIN CHRIS!

Ninjas, Knives, and Cameras

“Fear causes hesitation,

and hesitation will cause your worst fears to come true.”

Bohdi as played by Patrick Swayze in Point Break

Heather doesn’t appear to be a cold-blooded killer. She talked about the Act of Killing, hopefully, a disturbing thought for humans. She spoke of the Ninja Master who taught her. She described the steps. She followed the playbook. She thought about it, planned it like a First Degree Murder, told each and every one of us how it was going to happen. The victim was in her right hand, the knife in her left. And no one was going to stop her.

Photo by Heather Irwin

Of the entire Eat Retreat weekend, the most impactful session had to be the chicken slaughter. Yes, I’m using the term slaughter specifically now, rather than kill as I did before. Heather has slaughtered hundreds of animals without hesitation because of the purpose involved, providing food. But the first chicken she slaughtered Saturday morning, October 27 2012 a little after 10:42am, may not have gone as methodically as she was used to.

Why?

She talked about the slaughter at length before she committed the act.  If memory serves, Heather continued talking about the act of slitting a chicken throat after she placed the chicken upside down in the aluminum cone, (despite the editing job we’ve seen online). With the knife in her hand, she talked about involuntary muscle response, chicken poop, reminding us to be swift and act without hesitation. As she stretched the neck of the chicken, discussing the motion of the knife preparing for slaughter she says two things,

{quietly} Calm down {to the chicken as it struggled}

{then to the crowd} Alright, I’m just going to do this and we can talk about it later.”

Change the circumstances and the purpose for Heather, such as describing in detail what happens when you slit a chicken throat and the moment changes, the emotion changes, the purpose changes and it was clear to me in Heather’s speech; when she spoke to the chicken and then to the crowd. Heather was technically slaughtering a chicken, like she does on a daily basis for work. However, the emotion, mood and crowd changed the conditions to the pejorative; killing rather than slaughtering a chicken, describing the gory details for the crowd in front of her.

Photo by Heather Irwin

I’m guessing she doesn’t have a crowd of by-standers with digital video cameras when she does her day-to-day job.

The description of the slaughter seemed to resonate with a lot of spectators.  The expressions on faces, the talk leading up to the act of cutting, the quiet reverence in the semi-circle, and the discussion around the table that night all affected the simple act of slaughtering a chicken for food.

I’m a hunter. I’ve been a hunter for 27 years. Hesitation in hunting can lead to poor results and missed opportunities. 2000 years ago, hesitating to dispatch your objective could lead you to go hungry and die. These days, I’m more likely to kill myself driving to the grocery store than being attacked by a lion or bear.

I first shot an animal when I was 14 years old with a shotgun. As I wasn’t that great of a shot or hesitated or aimed poorly, sometimes I only wounded birds and therefore, had to wring some necks when I chased down the birds to finish the job. Poor shooting is disrespectful to birds or any other animal.

I’m a lot better shot these days.

I also don’t “think” about the act of shooting or describe shooting to people while hunting. Hunting is often a reaction to the situation. If I actually had to think about drawing the weapon, aiming, and pulling the trigger, much less describing what I’m going to do; like Heather describing how to wield a knife, I’d probably miss the damn shot. 

My brother and I shooting pheasants

Additionally, when I was the youngest member of the hunting party and as a right of passage, I had to clean all the birds shot that day by everyone, probably 40 birds on a 102 degree afternoon in Fresno County. Stinky, messy, bloody, warm, gross, but eventually tasty. I’ve only missed 3 seasons of hunting since I was 14. I’m not the youngest guy at the hunt anymore, but I still clean the birds I shoot and make sausage with the scraps of deer.

In the end, birds or any other animal are simply meat to be cooked later that afternoon or evening. I didn’t think anything of shooting birds when I was a teenager, other than I was carrying on a long held tradition of eating what I shot. I don’t think much of it now as a 41 year old adult either, whether by knife, shotgun, or rifle.

I’m hunting, slaughtering, and butchering the animal to eat it.

No hesitation. No fear. No detailed descriptions. 

Honor the animal by cooking it properly.

Photo by Mike Lee, Heather and David marveling over guanciale

Heather, you’re carrying on a long-held tradition of craftspeople, doing the job most modern people don’t have the temperament, fortitude, or discipline to do. You’re an example of what’s best about Eat Retreat, leading by example. I have the utmost respect for your craft, talent, and strength.

D.Scheidt Backyard Garden 2012

Let's get something clear...I hate yard work.

Mowing the lawn, raking leaves, raking the other neighbor's leaves and pine needles pretty much all sucks. The smell of freshly cut grass does nothing for me because I can't smell it over the lawn mower exhaust to begin with. If I want to smell freshly cut grass, I'll open a bottle of Sav Blanc.

However, I'm willing to put in good labor for fruit. Makes sense, I make wine. So I'm willing to put in whatever effort it takes to have great tomatoes all summer long. I'm reasonably hard-core about NOT buying tomatoes in December or any other month in California other than the summer months. Canned tomatoes are just fine for sauces and stews in the winter anyway.

So planting 18 tomato plants this season, along with 4 basil plants, should allow me to get my fix in for the season. For those that care, I have included a diagram of the plantings as well as a picture of the garden area. The other two trees on the right are Apricot and Orange. The Apricot tree has bloomed and I will take measures to eliminate any bird/critter threats to my plants and trees.

Cousin Marco curing Olives

Fresno and Healdsburg have slightly different weather patterns. Fresno is a little ahead in terms of grape and olive harvesting. Cousin Marco was hard at work in Fresno curing olives; an annual tradition. Meanwhile, Cousin David was harvesting grapes in Healdsburg for the 2011 Cabernet Vintage. Lots of harvesting going on. 

I've posted Marco's pictures of his olive curing in the Gallery and Facebook.