The name had been coming to mind, followed by one echoing question; who is this guy and why does he seem so familiar to me?
It was late in the day, the sunlit room was beginning to darken, and I couldn't decide what wine to open. The sunset was showing itself from the west, through the room's only window. I was having a hard time deciding what bottle to start my evening off with, so I lined the table with several of my favorites. I stood there for a minute, just taking them in when through the half-closed wooden shutter, deep fading yellow flashes of light bounced off the bottles, and a single illuminated gleam landed on one bottle in particular. It was Jolie-Laide. That was the one. It was as if it spoke to me. Sincere. Stoic. Immovable.
Jolie-Laide. It was like a tune playing on a loop in my head, like a catchy 80's New Wave song. I grabbed the bottle, examined the creative label, uncorked, poured, smelled, smiled, and gulped. At that moment, I felt like I knew a thing or two about Scott Schultz, the man who made this wine. His name had been coming up a lot. You'd see it on list after list of winemakers to watch. It was time to learn more.
When I was eighteen, I had a job at a small Italian restaurant in Seal Beach. A small beach town in Southern California where everyone knew everyone, the main street, was called Main Street. A few dive bars that packed in a few hundred college kids on the weekends, of course, seafood restaurants and souvenir shops selling snow globes of seals on a beach, seashells that had no relevance to the marine life from the ocean along the California coast. I worked at an Italian restaurant, and the place could occupy about thirty people, comfortably, and it sat a mere 100-yards from the pier — not a bad gig for an 18-year surfer with a mohawk. The interior, with its faded mural of the Venice canals, had a laid-back atmosphere and offered some decent Italian wines. Our generous food portions and wine pours made it a regular night spot for locals. Pizza by the slice was made fresh and served all day for sunbaked, sandy-footed tourists. I worked there with my friend Tom. We were young punks who didn't have a care in the world. [Side Note: At the time Tom was the drummer for a band named, Sloppy Seconds. A few years later that band would be renamed to, Sublime.]
Our shift started at 10:00 am. With bloodshot eyes, breath tasting of 3:00am Naugle's famous taco salad that had been chased by many, many beers, we'd melt out of Tom's car, slowly making our way into the backdoor, and head to the kitchen.
Tom and I had a ritual that, for the most part, lasted the whole time we worked there. When we'd arrive in the morning, the first thing we would do was see what food was left over from the night before. Tom and I would pack up all that leftover food, that we were expected to throw out, and store it on the bottom shelf of the walk-in until our shift ended. When we’d cash out for the night, we'd pile our spoils into Tom's car, go to his house, prepare a 10-course meal, play Quarters with anyone who stopped by with more beer and we'd eat like kings until around 3am, then pass out.
Tony and Marco. What a pair they were. They were our kitchen prep crew by day and crazy mad skilled chefs by night. They'd be drunk by the time Tom, and I arrived. Their days started at 8am and how they rolled in so early, after all their drinking and coke indulging from the night before, I never knew. But those two were always on time and never missed a shift. They would begin by firing up the pizza ovens, getting the 50lb bag of dough flour from the back, and then make their first of what would be many, huge pitchers of something they aptly named ‘Venom'. Venom was made up of all the ‘by the glass' wine bottles that were left over from the night before then mixed with Mountain Dew. This was my breakfast.
It was the kind of place where no time clock was needed; there was no punching in our out. It was cash only, under the table job. I made $50 for two 5-hour shifts, plus what little tips were handed out at the end of the night. Randy, the coke-addled manager, would take the lion’s share of the community tip jar and then toss the rest on the prep counter, like he was throwing breadcrumbs to pigeons in Central Park, just to watch us attack it.
For a little more than two years, this was my life. By day, from 10am – 3pm, I was a pizza tossing, Venom crazed kitchen helper. By night, from 5pm – 10pm, I became the stumbling waiter. During the 2-hour break I had from work, between 3pm – 5pm, I had enough time to catch a few waves on the north side of the pier, shower at the outdoor stalls near the self-parking lot, get back to the restaurant, tuck my surfboard in the storage closet next to the mops and buckets and consume whatever Venom was left, at least until the next batch was ready. It was then off with the Circle Jerks T-shirt and into a red Polo shirt. I replaced my Converse Chuck Taylor high-tops for a pair of Sperry Topsiders, and I'd swap out my Kanvas by Katin shorts for black khakis. To cover up whatever daily grind or salt I didn't lose during my quick outdoor shower, it was a splash of Ralph Lauren Polo, or if available, some Paco Rabanne. That always did the trick. We'd switch off the Dead Kennedy's blaring from the kitchen and put on Neil Young or the Grateful Dead. You know, to create that real authentic Italian atmosphere.
As the sun was setting, Main Street would begin its transformation. The seashell shop turned its OPEN sign to CLOSED. The well-fed parking meters went to sleep for the night. The smell of Coppertone and children said their goodbyes. All, just in time for the locals to emerge. Many of them would find their way to Clancy's, a salty dog bar that looked like a place you'd find Bukowski drinking in, which was right across the alley was Giancola's, where I worked. We stayed open until 10pm, just long enough for people to fill up on pasta, and head back out to the bars until 2am.
Tall partially drank glasses of Venom were strewn all over the kitchen. You didn't know whose glass was whose who, but it didn't matter. We'd drink from whatever glass was within reaching distance. Marco stirred the boiling pot of water as Tony rolled out and cut the fresh pasta dough. It may have been a drunkenly run business, but at 5pm, regardless of what was running through their systems, those two came alive and were on point. They were focused professionals, and they knew how to handle their shit. They hand-peeled the tomatoes in the afternoon for the nights fresh marinara. Marco brought in fresh herbs from his garden and would add them to everything he made. Basil went in this; thyme and oregano went in that. If you looked close enough, which thankfully the customers never did, you could see coke dust residue in their nostrils. Randy cared more about how brilliant their cooking skills were, so he always made sure they had enough powder flowing through their veins, to make it until closing and then he’d pour them tequila to calm them down, but not so much that they'd not be back by 8am. It was a vicious cycle of how many restaurants, whether big or small, functioned or dis-functioned. It just seemed to be part of the culture, and as such, was both accepted and excepted.
Main Street was a different place at night, and people just felt more genuine. They seemed to let their guards down. Maybe I did too, even through my Venom induced state. But without fail and always with precision, I'd wait on friendly and familiar faces. I listened to their stories, even if I'd heard it 20 times before. I gave them excellent service and kept their wine glasses full. Looking back, I remember we laughed a lot and often. Tall tales were told, and we all knew, not all but most, were true. I enjoyed being there, and I'd soak in the energy that blew in off the ocean and came in through the air. It was quite a feeling. Old crusty sea-dog fishermen sitting around, talking and drinking with the preppy sandal-wearing beachfront million-dollar homeowners. When they laughed, they really laughed, and if you paid attention, it felt like they were moving in slow motion. People paid attention to one another. They weren't distracted. They were present and in the moment. Tucked away in a hot kitchen, spinning plates, carrying out the day's specials, Garcia sang to us about trains and moonlight and I could hear and feel the town breathing.
About 450 miles away and 30-years later, Scott Schultz would open a small winery called Jolie-Laide. For the past 5-years, he has been one of the most talked about young winemakers around. Don't believe me? Just Google ‘Scott Schultz - Winemaker' and see for yourself. You'll find write-up and write-up, on him and his wine. From Fortune Magazine to the San Francisco Chronicle, and many others, people are very excited about this up and comer.
Scott Schultz is changing the wine culture with his diverse choice of grapes, and how he makes his wine. He's not alone either. Not by a long shot. Schultz has friends who are doing the same thing, who are taking the same ride and I think it's great! From Jaimee Motley to Matthew Rorick, from Ryan & Megan Glaab to Dirty & Rowdy. These winemakers are daring to push back, to do something different, to take some risks and they are tapping into something, dare I say... personal. It's not just one thing, and that's what makes this such a pleasure to, not only watch them but also to root for them. It's the way they are growing their grapes or how they're sourcing organic, and the use of natural filtering and their passion for fewer additives. It's not always the big things that make the biggest difference. This group of standouts is not concerned with what's trendy or fashionable or if it will increase their Instagram likes. Seriously. Even the artwork Schultz is creating to put on his labels. This next generation of winemakers is making wines for themselves. It’s personal.
I like Schultz and what he stands for and stands up for. I also really relate to him. Our stories have a similar path, but also, different. Both ‘Pretty' and ‘Ugly', jolie laide, if you will. He's a transplant from Chicago to Napa. I found my way to California via New Jersey in my parents Cadillac when I was nine. He worked as a busboy in a few restaurants and paid attention to wine and food pairing. I made pizza, got drunk and sat with locals who shared their quaff with me. It stayed that way until I left the smell of suntan lotion and the sand of Seal Beach for the island and canals of Naples and, for Morry's. I've written a lot about how my time at Morry's of Naples shaped my palate and influenced my love for wine, but my time at the pizza place, drinking with those old locals, had an early influence on me as well. Yet, the real education, the love affair, began when I landed at Morry's, which to this day is still considered to have been one of the most respected wine stores in Southern California.
Schultz landed a job at Spago, which is where he learned about wine. He had to. It was one of those, "if you want to move up, then you need to keep up!" kind of things and, he did. The varietal that turned his head that lit him up was a Syrah. For me, it was a Pinot Noir. We all have our ‘one', the one we chase for the rest of our lives. Seeing an opportunity, he landed a job working at Thomas Keller's, Bouchon in Las Vegas. I think he might have been working there at the same time a friend of mine was there as well; Chef Shirley Chung, who also went on to some great things, but I'll save her story for another time. The Vegas gig turned into a wine director job for Shultz, at Bouchon in Yountville, right down the road from The French Laundry. To add to his resume, he was once the Cellar Master for Realm Cellars.
When I was working at Morry's, the tastings, the bottles that were open every single day, was like a fairy-tale. Those were the days before big distributors. It was a time when winemakers would get in their beat-up F150s' and bring bottles down from the vineyard for wine sellers to try. I remember Mike Grgich walking in one day with unlabeled bottles of his cabernet for everyone to sample. It was an incredible time.
Tattoos. Punk Rock. Wine. That describes me in my twenties, and it describes Scott Schultz's style of winemaking today. Whether it's for the exquisite attention and beautiful detail he puts into the artwork for his labels or for the wine itself, it's worth seeking out Jolie-Laid. Since day one his wines came out swinging. They offered up a punch right to the kisser. The time spent researching artists and classic artworks that he puts on his labels is reminiscent of Manfred Krankl's Sin Qua Non. He's not copying Krankl. He merely pays attention to every detail of what he is giving to the world. Once you drink the wine, the bottle can sit on a shelf and become a conversation piece. Each year a different theme of art is placed on Schultz's bottles from charcoal sketches of nudes; which passed the ethics review from the TTB; Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau from the 18th-century field drawings of butterflies, distressed photos of skateboarders and renowned portrait photographer Alma Haser. It's hard work to remain creatively consistent, but he does it and makes it look easy.
Jolie-Laide makes about 550 cases of wine a season. That may seem, like a lot, but consider that I drink around 30 cases of wine per year. Five hundred cases make 6000 bottles. His average wine price is $30. The gross profits could buy you a Lamborghini Huracan, but after you pay everyone and add up all the supply costs and overhead, if you're lucky, your netting around $50k. Not a bad, but not sustainable in an area of California that goes for $400k an acre.
Even with small annual case runs, I wouldn't classify Schultz as a cult winemaker. The difference between Schultz and say Sine Qua Non or other 'cult' is... accessibility. Period. He keeps his prices down because he wants to make it affordable because he wants his 'craft' out in the world. To help keep the day to day at bay, Schultz is assistant winemaker for Wind Gap wineries. He found his passion away from the restaurant world and is supporting a grassroots winemaking movement, by changing the way people are discovering, drinking, experiencing, sharing and talking about wine. Will we see a Jolie-Laide wine reach Harlan or Screaming Eagle prices? Who knows? But I think if we do, Scott Schultz would probably break every bottle and find another line of work.
Jolie-Laide debuted in 2010 and continues to grow in wine selection and reputation. Schultz is one of a few winemakers producing a Trousseau Gris, which is an old school classic. No one else is doing that. It's like putting beef wellington on a menu. Other varietals he's created over the years have been Syrah, Pinot Gris, and freaking Melon de Bourgogne. If you're looking for some exciting wines beyond the usual suspects, seek out Jolie-Laide, get on the waiting list, and when your number is called, you know what to do. BUY! BUY! BUY! All you can!
2017 Trousseau Gris
It is considered an orange wine.
[To make an orange wine, you first take white grapes, mash them up, and then put them in a large vessel (often cement or ceramic). Then, you typically leave the fermenting grapes alone for four days to sometimes over a year with the skins and seeds still attached.
Orange winemaking is a very natural process that uses little to no additives, sometimes not even yeast. Because of all this, they taste very different from regular white wines and have a sour taste and nuttiness from oxidation. – Source: Wine Folly]
Appearance (Color): Grapefruit
Aroma (Complexity): Peach, fresh flowers and citrus
Body (Texture and Weight): Light
Food Pairing: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Serving Temperature: 52°
Final Rating: 93
The Y9 Point Rating System
Wine Score | How Good the Wine Is
95-100 Classic: an extraordinary wine
90-94 Outstanding: wine with superior character & style