A vineyard turns 50, a good run for wine in Monterey County. | Monterey County NOW Intro
Dave Faries here, staring at a computer screen in a wistful mood. As I write this, Scheid Vineyards is hosting a party to celebrate 50 years of wine grape production in Monterey County.
The clock is playing against us more often than not. With a long list of tasks and deadlines, a trip to their facility and vineyards in Gonzales was an impossibility. The longevity of the winery, however, is reminiscent of the ups and downs and finally the rapid expansion of the county’s wine industry.
Scheid’s people were clever, lucky or rather clever. A Harvard graduate, Al Scheid founded his vineyard as a tax shelter in 1972. It would be fairly easy to offset the losses, as it takes about four years for newly planted vines to produce grapes of reasonable quality. So, with a group of investors, he created Monterey Farming Corporation.
The Scheid family admits none of this is very sexy, in regards to an origin story. When ready, the grapes were sold to winemakers elsewhere. The Scheid label will come later. But let’s pause and recall where America was in terms of wine appreciation during the company’s first two decades in business.
I can delete some popular names: Blue Nun, Cold Duck, Lancers. Riunitis on ice? It’s zonte. Ernest and Julio Gallo were probably the most recognizable figures on the American wine scene – until 1975, when Sutter Home introduced White Zinfandel (it was an accident), this pale pink sugar rush in a bottle.
And it gets worse. In the early 80s, White Zin was the most popular wine thing in the United States. However, this is not where we hit rock bottom. During the MTV decade, wine coolers took off, followed by raw chardonnays. Yes, you could say the sappy Chards were steps away from Bartles & Jaymes or White Zin. In terms of topics for debate, however, this is a pretty weak topic.
Still, Scheid’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It took a few decades for American wineries – and many palates, of course – to recover from the double-dealing of Prohibition and the Great Depression. But in the 1960s, California was producing respectable wines, though few connoisseurs were willing to admit such a thing. Then two moments and a trend that saw Americans expand their culinary and drinking interests changed everything.
A study published in 1960 rated the terroir of Monterey County equal to that of Napa and Sonoma for growing wine grapes. Kim Stemler of the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association noted that at the time only a few hundred acres were devoted to cultivation, with much of it belonging to Chalone Vineyard on land first planted in 1919. The report launched a rush to get vines in the ground. By the late 1970s, some 31,000 acres were growing wine grapes.
In 1976, the world of wine as we understood it changed. That year in Paris, in a blind tasting by French judges, Californian wines beat some of France’s most famous chateaux. Over the next three decades, “Monterey County” began to appear on wine labels. AVAs were created and tasting rooms began to open. At the same time, public appreciation for fine wines – or any wine, really – grew to the point where wine sales in the country surpassed beer for the first time.
Monterey County has become a wine destination over the past 50 years, the same extent as Scheid Vineyards. It’s definitely a reason to party.
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