Back in the Game, the Restaurant Game

Part 2 of Who Wants to Try a $500 Wine?

20 minutes after I got through with Shackelford, I attended a private tasting at long-time friend John Marihart’s house. Back in the restaurant game, John was on hiatus from the restaurant business to start a family and a successful second career in the technology business before returning to the food and beverage business to open a prime steakhouse. John has goals; big goals, because just like in Road House, John will get enough sleep when he’s dead.

The double blind tasting was conducted by Sommelier Vincent Cho.  I was certainly ‘warmed up’ from tasting with Shackelford.

The highlight of the tasting, was the flight of Cabernet. My Jedi senses were strong late in the day, as I yakked poetically about Chateau Montelena in Napa, the stylistic nuances it has along with the historic Paris tasting, fresh with the memory of the more modern Schrader/Scarecrow/Hourglass in my brain. Knowing there was at least one French Bordeaux in my flight, I didn’t guess Lynch Bages, but was very happy to be moving back and forth, pondering between the Montelena and the Lynch Bages. The third wine in the flight, a ‘new American’ Matthiasson Cabernet was more about contrast in the flight, as the wine was very lean and acid driven. In the perfect world and combining both the Shackelford and Marihart/Cho tastings, going from a Matthiasson to Forman to Lynch Bages to Montelena to Schrader would be an incredible example of Cabernet in a range of styles and the history of California winemaking.

As a Cabernet winemaker, I want luxury in my young Cabernet, not lean fruit and mouthfuls of acid. If I’m pulling a cork on a $60 Cabernet I want it to drink luscious, not lean. I want decadent, not demure. Dark black brooding fruits, not red cheery cherry fruit. If I wanted lean and full of bright red fruit, we had one in our blind flight, the Jolie Laide Gamay Noir from El Dorado County. Lean and mean, it was all bright red acidic fruit and perfect to drink early with cheese and country pate’, not a steak.

Other standout wines included a Krug Grande Cuvee 163rd edition,  a flight of Chardonnay, 1st Cru Meursault from 09 and 16 and the Rajat Parr project Sandhi Mt. Carmel SRH. A great comparison of wines from both old and new world, yet strikingly similar in style, but that seemed to be the point. Another Somm project, Gramercy Cellars 2014 Lagniappe Syrah from Washington was dense and rich and opened up nicely, I went back to it with some of the smoked tenderloin that was offered for dinner. The final two wines of the tasting were a Brunello and a Rioja, textbook style Brunello that was my first real drink with dinner (meaning, I was done spitting) and a Rioja that was built for the American or export palate, showing the presence of the American oak in the front and mid palate.


Not every wine is a great wine in these tasting formats. From the Marihart/Cho tasting, I’m still not a big fan of whole cluster fermentations. The green character they exude when whole cluster is being done for the sake of being called whole cluster is no different than putting 100% new oak on Cab because it checks some box, it is lazy wine making for the sake of being cool. When whole cluster ferments taste like yalanchi filled with green peppers dipped in a wheatgrass sauce, it didn’t work out the way you planned and don’t excuse it for terroir, it’s not terroir, it's sloppy and a poor experiment.

I'm looking forward to my next double blind tasting experience with Marihart Inc....carrying on 35 years of tasting everything from Keystone Light to Grand Cru Bordeaux.

Who wants to try a $500 wine?

Who wants to try a $500 wine? Or perhaps a $30 wine that tastes like pickle juice?

Part 1

I love being involved in wine tastings. Triple threat Chef/Somm/Proprietor Chris Shackelford has been holding open tastings for as long as I remember.  Usually about 30 or so wines from around the world are poured, with a mix of anything from a $20mid-week sipper, natural wines, right on through a $500 cult Cab from Napa; basically something for everyone and every budget. Knowing how to taste at Shack’s event is key, everyone bum-rushes the most expensive Pinot first, so avoid that station. Rather, enjoy a glass of Riesling or Sparkling wine to start, as there should be enough Pinot to try in about 20 minutes.

Highlights from Shack’s tasting for me included the Hourglass HG III Red Blend 2016 out of Napa, a Merlot heavy wine and rather enjoyable this early for $55, it’s warm-weather, modern, with some oak, but it totally works. The Schrader RBS To-Kalon Beckstoffer 2015 is pure clone 337 Cabernet on a specific French oak for 20 months, which allows me to see what a very pure expression of Cabernet tastes like in the modern style.  I work with clone 337 in Dry Creek, so it’s helpful to see where other winemakers take the fruit. For something with some bottle age and grace, a 1985 Forman Cabernet, Napa Valley was a dramatic contrast to the Hourglass or Schrader. The 85 Forman came in at 12.8% alcohol and drinking as you would expect a wine of pedigree from that era, wonderfully. Looping back to Pinot, the 2015 Trombetta Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast was my favorite in the line-up. Oh, there was a Scarecrow in there too, yawn…(that’s because I didn’t get any).


From the Shackelford tasting there were a few wines of the 'natural' category (not pictured). Pickle juice and brett showed up in back-to-back wines where flaws become flavors to some. It’s tough for me and other winemakers to be blatantly honest about many of these wines, as some of the winemakers are our peers and friends. Some of the stuff is just plain horrible and it gets an audience, simply because it’s different, not good. In fact, Sonic Burger just announced a Pickle Juice Slushie just in time for summer. Combine that with kombucha sales and maybe there’s a trend for vinegar based beverages. I’m just tasting volatile acidity (VA) and poorly made wines from producers who know better.

Perhaps among ancient Rome’s peasants, having a wine that tasted like pickle juice and had 10% alcohol in it was better than dysentery or cholera, but we live in modern times and I don’t want wine that tastes like pickle juice. Let’s face it, you messed up your ferment and you have to sell it, I get it, bulk it out next time and call it a day. 

I'll post Part 2 of my all-day tasting with a post entitled Back in the Game and a double blind tasting.

Coffee and the Winemaker

Coffee is an important part of my daily regimen. Coffee and wine making are hand in glove.

There were some major issues on the crushpad this season with regards to the type and method of coffee served. One such matter, K-Cups vs. Drip. Stashes of emergency K-Cups of Starbucks were hidden in the lab, behind barrels, in the cave, even the glove compartment of a car, just in-case someone needed a late-afternoon fix. There's nothing worse than getting ready for a fresh cup of coffee and having to settle for a K-Cup of Lemon Zinger non-caffeinated nonsense. A second matter on the crushpad, Yuban vs. Starbucks vs. Peet's. I can assure you, I consumed Yuban coffee exactly one time this summer. Yuban is an abomination.

As I travel around California, I've been known to carry a backpackers stove and Moka pot or percolator with me, along with fresh beans, coffee grinder and car inverter just so I can have fresh ground coffee in the morning. Most mornings in Healdsburg, I'd brew up a fresh Moka pot to start my day.

Coffee, or more to the point, caffeine is serious business.

Number of Coffees or Espresso Consumed in 2015

Don't judge me for all the K-Cups and Pods. They're convenient, fast, and no one feels left out because you didn't make "a fresh pot" or get the "stink eye" (like I have an addiction) for brewing up a batch of drip at 3pm. Most of the K-Cups were consumed on the crushpad or in the office. Imagine the stink eye I'd get for grinding beans for my Moka Pot? Ohhh, the arrogance...he can't drink Yuban drip like the rest of us. Guilty as charged.

The pure math says I drink about 1.72 coffees per day, which seems about right, as I can easily have 3 espresso per day, which gets my numbers up. There are some days that I have no coffee, so I think my numbers are fairly accurate for the year.

Cold coffee (different than Cold Brew) has an additional benefit to the winemaker...acid. Nothing cleans the palate better than a cold coffee and a Pellegrino.

A look back at McGee Creek this Summer

Without any break in the schedule, I went from cooking in McGee Creek at Crowley Lake to Healdsburg over the course of a weekend to begin harvest. So, it's time to catch up on one incredible summer on the East Side.

First, I want to thank Elizabeth, Scott and the kids, without Elizabeth's invite to be in McGee (and the leap of faith in me that I can pull it all off), none of this unique experience happens. Elizabeth allowed me to have tremendous freedom in her kitchen, that level of trust is a rare thing indeed, and for that I am grateful. Thank you Elizabeth for the opportunity and your trust in me. To the kids, Owen and Esha (June won't be far behind), who call me "David Scheidt", not Dave or David, but "Dave Scheidt" thanks for making me laugh each time I hear it (cause it is funny). Scott, thanks for being there when I really wanted to use a Star Wars or superhero reference and Elizabeth would have no idea what I was talking about. Joking aside Scott, I appreciate the help at the wine dinners and crunch times during the season; we needed all hands on deck and those extra hands made each night run that much more smoothly.

To the locals at McGee: Walkers, Slaters, and Meadway (plus Floyd and Dre), I appreciate each of you opening your homes, sharing meals, and bonfires; those are some of my best memories of summer. I got to know many people from the communities of Mammoth, Crowley, McGee, Paradise, Mono, June, and Bishop throughout the summer. Many came in week after week for fresh pasta Friday, some slow-cooked goodness on Saturday or the Sunday Sandwich. I, in turn, got to visit those communities and the people in them. To each of you, THANK YOU. 

I wanted to share a note attached to a beer given to me by one of the guys I worked with, Kyle. He uses the formal title on the note "Chef" rather than David which is a big deal. It speaks to the thoughtfulness and genuine nature of many of the people that I have come to know on the East Side. "A little taste of home" as he put it to me when he gave me the beer and the note. Thanks Kyle.

Taste of Home

Lastly the food. I've put a small collection of photos together of some of the food I cooked this summer. Gluten-free...been there, done that. I crafted a different gluten-free (and vegan in many cases) bowl every single weekend this summer, without a repeat and every one from scratch. 

To balance out the number of gluten-free bowls I cooked, I cooked pounds and pounds of pasta. Pasta with red sauce, primavera, tomato cream and alfredo were all featured. But the runaway favorite was arugula pesto. I put arugula pesto on everything from sandwiches to vegetables. The runaway pasta shape, cannelloni, without question.

For every gluten-free bowl I made, I made two bowls of bread pudding. Vanilla, Chocolate, Mixed Berry, and Vanilla-Cinnamon were my regular offerings. People love bread pudding...don't fight it.

Again, thank you to everyone that came to McGee Creek this summer. I had a remarkable experience with wonderful people. 

Brunch, Lunch and a Wine Dinner

It's been just over two weeks since I've settled into McGee Creek and the East Side (a.k.a. Mammoth Lakes) and my summertime cooking gig.

I've visited an organic farm, Apple Hill Ranch near Bishop, got invited to a BBQ in Paradise, made an apricot dressing for the first time, co-hosted a wine dinner and cooked several meals at McGee Creek (and poured a lot of wine).

Savory scone, with country gravy and a runny egg

Savory scone, with country gravy and a runny egg

Bowl of Chicken Pho

Bowl of Chicken Pho

Winemaker David Scheidt snacking on eggplant parmigiano scraps

Winemaker David Scheidt snacking on eggplant parmigiano scraps

Chicken and eggplant parmigiano over polenta

Chicken and eggplant parmigiano over polenta

83 Dishes means...someone has to do dishes before we serve dessert

83 Dishes means...someone has to do dishes before we serve dessert

East Side Produce

Why I keep going back to the East Side...because it's fun

Another trip to the East Side of California, a.k.a. Mammoth Lakes.

McGee Creek Garden, Crowley Lake, CA

McGee Creek Garden, Crowley Lake, CA

The last time I was in Mammoth, the garden that McGee Creek Lodge caretaker (and guitarist for the Sweetwater String Band and Bodie 601) Jeff Meadway planted was just starting to show signs of growth. When I returned last weekend, the raised bed garden had exploded to life with lettuce, onions, tomato, squash, mint and even some corn.

McGee Creek Garden Lettuce

McGee Creek Garden Lettuce

With the addition of Sierra Bounty Produce CSA, I had plenty of produce to use for our East Side Dinners (and a special staff lunch salad).

Shishito Peppers from Sierra Bounty Produce

Shishito Peppers from Sierra Bounty Produce

Dinners took the theme of Mexican food, with lots of tacos and chile verde (although side projects of kid friendly Mac N'Cheese and adult friendly seared shishito peppers are encouraged). The Mexican-American El Super Burrito made it's way on to the East Side Bake Shop menu as well, packed with meat, meat, meat...starch, starch, starch...and cheese, cheese, cheese.

Lettuce from the Garden at McGee Creek Lodge

Lettuce from the Garden at McGee Creek Lodge

Bodie 601 played on Friday night, while Fiddlin' Pete played on Saturday night for a group of dinner guests dining on the patio.

Jeff plans on expanding the garden for the 2015 growing season, basically more of everything he planted this season, with the addition of an herb garden.

McGree Creek Lodge Garden 2014

McGree Creek Lodge Garden 2014

As always, I look forward to another trip to the East Side just after the 2014 wine grape harvest.

Mastro Scheidt Cellars wine dinner with Chef Tommy Chavez

Chef Tommy Chavez is back in Visalia! 

A personal note from winemaker and proprietor David Scheidt

Chef Tommy Chavez and I have collaborated many times over the years, from casual, backyard events to intimate private dinners

A SOLD OUT dinner on August 7,  2014 was proof Tommy was ready for the big game. Always leading with his strengths, Chef prepared a four course menu of his signature items, Italian inspired duo of Salad and Pasta alla Gricia followed up by two American classics, Porcini rubbed Rib-Eye and Tommy's Bread Pudding. Click on Chef Tommy's left arm below for a brief re-cap of the night in pictures.

I personally paired each of the courses to match Chef Tommy's Italian-American inspired cuisine, including two allocated wines from my personal library, my 2013 white wine and my 2012 Sangiovese. I lead off with my proprietary white wine, a crisp match to Chef's salad, followed by a Dry Creek Valley Sangiovese, the perfect pair with Chef Tommy's pasta. Only full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon was appropriate for Chef's porcini rib-eye, my 2010 single-vineyard Cabernet and my 2011 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon dominate blend.

I would like to personally thank everyone who attended, with a personal thanks to Chef Tommy and Vanessa for their support and confidence in my wines for their first wine dinner.

A culinary star has returned to Visalia

...Chef Tommy Chavez.

Sunday Dinner at Lake Mary, Mammoth Lakes

Cooking for two people is fun and easy. Cooking for 12 people is a challenge. Cooking for 40+ people and then transporting the food to a remote location is like running a mini-restaurant for the night.

On the last evening of the 2014 Mammoth Food and Wine Experience, T.L., Brother John and I cooked for 40 people at the Pokonobe Resort on Lake Mary.


For our last night in Mammoth, we went with our strength...Italian food...which translates into Pizza, Pasta and Grilled Veggies.

John cooked his specialty, a Spring/Summer fusilli pasta dish complete with pancetta, finely minced and slowly cooked in butter garlic, onion, and red peppers and finished with fine herbs. In addition, my brother really enjoyed his new toy, the flat top grill.

T.L. who has worked several dinners with me before, cooked nearly 20 pounds of pasta that night, roasted about 30 pounds of vegetables, and was our utility player for the day working different prep and finishing stations.

I worked on the various sauces, doughs, pizza, dessert, seasonings and final tasting, along with logistics with our culinary liason, Dan Molnar from the Mammoth Lakes Foundation. A special thanks to Dan for his help in coordinating the evening with the Foundation and Marci Satterfield of the Pokonobe Resort at Lake Mary.

In addition to the cooking that T.L., my brother John and I did that evening, I asked a couple other locals to lend their creative talents, baking talents specifically, to the evening. Elizabeth McGuire of The East Side Bake Shop (who I cook with regularly) and duo from Mountain Cakery, Cora Coleman and Lauren Jenks. Thanks to all of you for your help in adding a sweet finishing touch to the evening.