Scribner Bend’s Jessica Smith Interview by Ken Young
Scribner Bend assistant winemaker Jessica Smith is among the galaxy of rising female stars of California wine. Since joining the winery in 2010, Jessica has be a key member of the team that makes Scribner Bend one of the most popular Sacramento Delta wine destinations.
DV: Let’s get started with a little background on Jessica Smith. Where were you born and raised?
JS: I was born and raised in Sacramento, although not in the delta. I get jealous of the kids growing up in this area who get to experience the country life only a few minutes away from the city.
DV: Was wine a part of your family upbringing?
JS: My grandmother would drink White Zinfandel during the hot summer months and my grandfather would enjoy a glass of red wine only when he ate a steak. My other family members were more beer drinkers before I got into the industry and now they always want me to bring them wine.
DV: Where did you go to school and what was your degree?
JS: I graduated from the University of California, Davis with a B.S. in Viticulture and Enology. I also dabbled a bit in beer brewing, but my heart was always with the wine.
DV: How did you first get interested in being a winemaker?
JS: I always liked trying wines from different regions to see the different nuances associated with each bottle. It was actually at Davis during a meet up group with all the department students that I became introduced to a 1976 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve that blew my mind. That particular bottle got me thinking about all the hard work and finesse that goes into each vintage and, if aged properly, can be enjoyed so much later in life.
DV: Why did you choose this particular location for your career?
JS: In perfect honesty, I first chose this region to eliminate relocating to Napa or commuting to the foothills because I was still in college. Once I became familiar with the region and the subtle differences each vineyard plot emulates, I fell in love. This region is replacing most of the farmland with vineyards and is really starting to compete with Lodi and the foothill wineries.
DV: Is your spouse or significant other involved in the wine business?
JS: I always get told that my husband and I are the perfect team because he makes the food and I make the wine. Currently the only time he jumps over to the wine business side is during bottling, and we always make him cook us lunch.
DV: What aspect of winemaking do you most enjoy?
JS: I am very blessed to have found a home at Scribner Bend due to the many hats I wear. Getting out in the vineyards and thinning the crop to an acceptable balance, calling the harvest date, crushing and fermenting and all the other actions that harvest brings is what I think all winemakers live for. Working barrels and making blends can be so much fun, but giving some love out in the vineyard is so important for me. Most of our white wine varietals grow quite wildly and they tend to need a little more love than the reds, and I think this is why I tend to enjoy making white wines.
DV: What varieties of wine do you make and what is Scribner Bend’s case production?
JS: Our two separate vineyards contain about 50 acres total housing 10 different varieties. We typically sell about two thirds of our grape tonnage while the rest is dedicated to our facility. Our flagship wine has always been our Tempranillo, although our Fiano is really gaining some buzz. We also produce Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Grigio, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet franc, all estate grown and bottled. We average about 3,000 cases per year but with the extra tonnages over the past two years, we have noticed our case count slowly increase.
The vineyard also holds some obscure varieties that are in the experimental phase, some of which will be ready for harvest this year. Every couple of years we graft on a new variety and try small lot batches to see where the grape can take us. It’s exciting to see the common varietals get shut-out by something the consumer has never heard of before.
DV: What is your general wine making philosophy?
JS: Each vintage can be so different from the last, and sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. I think as long as you stay close to the vineyard and respond to changes quickly (thinning, tying, irrigation etc.), management in the winery will be easier.
Everything starts out in the field and making wine without multiple additions (chemicals) and properly displaying the essence of the grape I believe is what winemaking should be.
DV: What message would you like to send to wine consumers?
JS: Drink good wines at good prices and don’t let other people sway your decisions. Local wineries are producing products that are competing with high-end wines, so you don’t have to stray too far to find a serene setting without breaking the bank.
To meet Jessica in person and arrange a private vineyard & barrel room tour contact Scribner Bend Vineyards.
Scribner Bend Vineyards is located at 9051 River Road, Sacramento, CA along the Delta. (see map on page 18 #4) Hours: Friday, 11-5 pm weekends 11-5 pm. For additional information phone 916-744-1803 or visit their web site at www.scribnerbend.com