Scheid Family Wines, the 33rd largest winery in the United States, was founded by Palisadian Al Scheid in 1972. Why have I never tasted his wines?
You probably have, but you just don’t know it. For all of its history, the Monterey-based company has sold grapes and wine to other producers, among them some of California’s finest.
But in the last 10 years or so, the family has been on a premium quality push under its own name, which has—excuse the pun—borne fruit.
Let’s back up a little. When Al Scheid decided to become a grape grower, Monterey was mostly unknown territory for grapes; salad land is the best way to put it. And Scheid was an amateur in the best sense: “You’re not going to meet anyone who started out in this business knowing less than I did,” he said.
But Monterey County had excellent potential for wine, according to the UC Davis enology department, because of good drainage and the cool ocean breezes that sweep down the Salinas Valley all the way to King City.
Armed with those ag reports and his Harvard Business School graduate’s sense of timing, Scheid began buying land and planting grapes, until 1979, when he had 13 different grape varieties on 6,000 acres.
The company was known as Monterey Farming for the first 15 years, and it filled many a bottle under all sorts of other names because it had no winery of its own.
Fast forward to 2005. Trimmed down to a “mere” 4,000 acres, the firm built a wind-powered winery in the midst of its properties, with a capacity of over a half million cases of wine per year.
Since then, under supervising winemaker Dave Nagengast, Scheid has been making its mark as a large producer that also does the premium end well.
The key to threading that needle has been experimentation and trials. Most small wineries lack the resources to test out things like GPS vineyard mapping, machine pruning, egg-shaped fermenters, bottling in kegs and obscure grapes such as Touriga Nacional.
If a test lot does not meet the quality standard, Scheid will blend it out and sell it.
“We never have to bottle a wine we don’t like,” Scheid told the Palisadian-Post over an excellent glass of 2013 Pinot Noir Clone 115 at his Riviera home.
Because the company’s premium vineyards are also large, the best batches tend to be barrel or clone selections. And the research continues: The latest project, said vineyard manager Greg Gonzalez, is self-driving tractors.
Today, Scheid gets to play golf and consult while his children, Scott and Heidi, handle the day-to-day administration.
Scheid Family Vineyards bottles its product under eight different brand names at all price levels. Scheid wrote his recollections of his early years, “Breaking Out of Beerport,” in 2015; it takes you up to about 1960 in an engaging style.
This Month’s Recommended Wines: Made by Scheid Family Vineyards
2017 District 7 Monterey Sauvignon Blanc — Brisk and juicy, with pineapple and lychee flavors and a minerally finish. $16, at Ronnie’s Market
2015 District 7 Monterey Chardonnay— Round but not too rich, this balanced wine brings apple and citrus aromas with white flower notes. $18, at Gelson’s
2015 Ranch 32 Monterey Cabernet Sauvignon— Good structure with black-fruit flavors and a crisp finish. $27, at BevMo
2014 Scheid Clone Series 667 Pinot Noir— Concentrated black cherry and spice aromas in a silky texture with a round finish. $72, at the winery