One would not think a successful winemaker and winery owner would have grown up on the streets of Manhattan, however, Jed Steele certainly did. Steele’s father was a wine aficionado and taught him many things along the way. His father even lived in France for a while before moving himself, young Jed, and the rest of the family to California to start a new life in prime American grape growing territory.
Jed finished high school and earned a scholarship from Gonzaga University for his basketball talents, and eventually continued on to study Enology (the science and study of wine and wine-making) at the University of California at Davis. From there he obtained a master’s degree and then entered his career, first working in the cellar at Stony Hill Winery. At Stony Hill he learned that wine-making involved tons of clean up, and that not everyone made wine the way he thought it should be made. Jed began his career there but soon after he moved to Mendocino and started making wine at Edmeades Winery. He loved the phenomenal wines that were being produced, especially the reds. He admired his life there on the coast so much that he stayed for 10 years and even named his daughter Mendocino! After his time there, he began working as head winemaker at Kendall Jackson Winery in Santa Rosa. This winery gave Jed a lot more experience and he was able to produce wines to his liking. He grew the brand from 30,000 cases to 1 million cases in only 9 vintages! This was a remarkable accomplishment for Jed, however, after the company grew too big and too corporate, he decided to start a winery of his own.
From there, Steele Winery was born in 1991. Ever since, Jed has owned and operated the winery and has enjoyed getting back into actually making wine again. He uses techniques such as barrel fermentation and malolactic fermentation to create his wines. Leaving Kendall Jackson allowed him to get back to what he loves doing, making wine, and the smaller family atmosphere left for more hands-on work. I asked Jed what advice he would give to the younger version of himself knowing what he knows now, and he said that he wouldn’t change a thing. Everything that has happened in his life was part of the learning process and has brought him to the successful point where he is now.
Jed mentioned that he doesn’t typically do anything too fancy or non-traditional during his wine-making. He usually aims to produce a Burgundian-style Chardonnay, and is pretty much hands off when it comes to creating his Pinot Noir wines. Jed has also worked with the popular new wine category-bourbon barrel wines. He stated that a broker asks distilleries if they have used barrels that they are willing to sell, and the broker then sells those bourbon barrels to wineries. The distillery that Steele Winery uses is out of Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Pretty neat concept!
I asked Mr. Steele what he thought would be the next up and coming varietals in the wine industry, and he said he that nobody ever really makes a prediction. It is a phenomenon and happens just like any other new trend. No one ever predicted Merlot, White Zinfandel, Moscato, Prosecco, and Rosé would be popular when they were, they just were. As far as what his favorites are during blending, Jed rarely blends whites, while enjoys blending red grapes often. His favorite to blend is Cabernet Franc mixed with a little Merlot. He does, however, enjoy producing monovarietals like Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling too!
Jed also spoke briefly of the future of the use of the Lake County fruit that he frequently uses, due to the rising temperatures of the Napa valley. He said the real difference that his company looks for when harvesting the fruit is in the nighttime temperatures. There has been a rise in them over the past few years, which has made slight changes in harvesting periods. Typically it is a few weeks either way (shorter or longer) than the normal harvest. There has not been a consistent change in harvests each year so it is hard to predict what the long term holds. There isn’t much change yet as far as effects on the wines and how much they will be able to produce. It looks as if things will stay the same for a while.
Last but not least, I had to ask Jed about his favorite Gonzaga University basketball memory, as I am also a former basketball player and now coach. When he was in college, he had his best game ever scoring 24 points against Northern Arizona. At the time, he was dating the homecoming queen and after the game he was able to hold her on his arm and show her off while celebrating the victory. How sweet!
Jed Steele has many wine products on the market including his Steele, Steele Stymie, Shooting Star, and Writer’s Block lines. You can find many of the wines available online at https://www.steelewines.com/ or you can check with Chili Liquor (Rochester, NY) to see if what you like is in stock!