Fine Disregard Wine Co was founded by Mike Schieffer and Kara Maraden – both came to the Napa Valley drawn to wine from previous careers, Mike from Texas and Kara from Pennsylvania. Mike graduated from American University in Washington, DC and worked for the Discovery Channel – exploring a possible career in law, but then was bitten by the wine bug. His introduction to wine making came through a Rugby coach who connected him with several wineries in Bordeaux – Mike worked in Bordeaux in 2008 and later in the Hunter Valley in Australia where he was introduced to Sémillon – an introduction that would later influence his decision to work with Sémillon in Napa Valley.
Mike has worked at a number of premium Napa Valley wineries including Beaulieu Vineyard, Keever and at Turley (where he works with a diversity of vineyards from select parts of the state).
Kara graduated from Penn State University with a bachelor’s degree in Horticulture and master’s in plant patholog. Trying to determine a career – she initially helped managed large estate gardens in Pennsylvania, sold beer for a stint before moving to California in 2010. Initially seeking a job in a tasting room, she soon discovered viticulture was a better match to her interests and background. She has been a viticulturist for Clos Du Val, Regusci and Foley Family of Wines.
When deciding upon a name for the wine – friends advised Mike to make it personal but refrain from naming the wine after himself. Reflecting on his two passions, wine and rugby he borrowed a line from a famous quote on a plaque erected in 1895 in front of the Rugby School in the town of Rugby, United Kingdom (about a two-hour drive from London). Rugby was first played at this school in 1823. “This stone commemorates the exploit of William Webb Ellis, who with a fine disregard for the rules of football as played in his time, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the Rugby game, A.D. 1823. ”
Mike’s philosophy of wine making is fairly minimalist as far as intervention; he does not inoculate with commercial yeast, rather uses indigenous yeasts. And his use of oak is judicious, using it as a vessel rather than for any sort of overt influence. This minimalism also carries over to their visual presentation in both their bottling and website; when one sees this bottle on a wine shelf, it stands out as a ‘less is more’ approach.
Mike describes truly great Napa wines as more textural driven rather than aromatic. His wines capture the essence of Napa including the abundance of sunshine but are crafted in a style that promotes the vibrancy of fruit and freshness – in part tied to natural acidity.
In a refreshing decision tempered by the challenging environment of sourcing and maintaining Napa vineyard sources, Mike and Kara decided to focus their production on varieties that are much more difficult to find in Napa Valley including Sémillon and Syrah.
Because they are generally working with small quantities of grapes and do not own vineyards, it can be challenging to maintain long term relationships with each vineyard. As a result of a variety of factors (change in ownership, change in varieties planted) Fine Disregard will often source from different vineyards each vintage. Their focus is on older vineyards which are farmed organically.
It can be difficult to locate great Sémillon vineyards in California much less in the Napa Valley where the varieties tend to be more homogeneous (with the focus on primary Bordeaux varieties and to a lesser extent in the southern part of the valley on select Burgundian varieties). Sémillon has presumably been priced out of the valley based on the cost compared to other more popular varieties. And it is not always the easiest variety to work with – Mike eloquently describes its susceptibility to noble rot, “it has a committed relationship with Botrytis” – certainly not what you want when producing a dry Sémillon. They tend to pick their Sémillon early which is certainly helpful in regard to avoiding Botrytis.
The 2016 Napa Valley Sémillon is a blend of three Sémillon vineyards including fruit from the coveted Yount Mill Vineyard; this is most likely one of the oldest Sémillon vineyards in all of Napa Valley with original vines dating back to the 1960s. The wine is straw yellow in the glass; it shows aromas of lemon zest, citrus blossom and as the wines breathes, aromas reminiscent of wild gooseberry (we always enjoy the challenges and taste of eating these in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains when they ripen in late summer). Shows a pleasing roundness on the palate – carrying some weight but not heavy. Excellent acidity with a clean finish.
The Milhouse Vineyard is located in Napa’s Oak Knoll District; this Sémillon comes from a 1/2-acre block which also contains a mutation of Sémillon, a pinkish/gray skinned Madeira clone) which tends to add a textural and spice component to the wine. The 2016 Milhouse Sémillon is golden in the glass (slightly darker than the Napa Valley Sémillon) – bright aromatics including floral notes (citrus), melon, baking spices and a lemon zest. Seamless throughout. Sémillon is a variety that can handle oak which adds to the textural qualities on the palate. Shows vibrant acidity.
The historic Haynes Vineyard is located in Coombsville and is known for having some of the oldest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Napa Valley (some of which may have been pulled out after the vineyard sold to Gaylon Lawrence). But this vineyard also produces exceptional Syrah. The 2019 Fine Disregard Coombsville Syrah, Haynes Vineyard was whole cluster fermented. This wine is dark ruby, purplish in color and nearly opaque; one can get lost in this expressive bouquet with its deeply layered and wide variety of aromatics. It is somewhat brooding, offering aromas of black olive, soy sauce, forest floor, sweaty baseball mitt leather, white pepper and dark plum. Let this wine opens and it will continue to express additional savory scents including of peppered beef jerky, sage, lavender and other dried herbs. The savory notes continue onto the palate with an iron-like and blood character, dark plum that is not fully ripe and red cherry. Finishes savory with notes of crushed black pepper framed by earthy, gravelly textured tannins of a light to moderate grip. This wine was aged 14 months in a neutral French oak puncheon and a Burgundy barrique.
The first vintage of Fine Disregard Wine was a Syrah in 2014 – 40 cases for friends and family that was never commercially released. Kara and Mike recalled bottling and labeling this wine all by hand. Normally when one sources fruit for small production wines it is from a vineyard block, however through her vineyard contacts, Kara located simply one row of Syrah in a vineyard in the Stags Leap District. They dubbed this the Lost Row; it is approximately 120 vines and was farmed by Kara and Mike. Rather than Syrah cuttings taken from France this Syrah was brought as cuttings from old vine Shiraz vines growing in the Barossa Valley in Australia. Prior to being used for Fine Disregard, the grapes were picked and fermented with the surrounding grapes. They were able to produce several vintages of this wine before having to change the vineyard source.
A small section of nearby Sémillon ripens at the same time as the Los Row Syrah so they co-fermented both varieties together. The 2016 Lost Row Syrah saw 4% Sémillon. The wine shows a pretty bouquet, offering fruit forward and well-layered aromas including higher-toned fruits (raspberry and red cherry) along with dried rose petal and violets. As Mike mentions, this wine shows “an aromatic lift”. A sweetness of darker fruits threads its way through the palate from start to finish framed by excellent acidity. Slightly dusty and well-integrated tannins linger softly.
Mike and Kara were introduced to the Altas Piedras Vineyard in Alexander Valley (neighboring Sonoma County). This site “ticked all the boxes” as Mike puts it for what they were looking in a quality Grenache Vineyard. The vines are head trained, the site is dry farmed, and farmed organically and it sits up at elevation in soils that are extremely rocky. Literally Altas Piedras translates to ‘high rocks’. Mike calls his efforts crafting this wine “lazy winemaking” – taking a hands-off approach letting all the hard work done in the vineyard show in the winery.
The 2016 Altas Piedras Grenache shows dessert spices on the bouquet including clove and cinnamon, rhubarb and a hint of mocha (very subtle). Balanced and with restraint, the wine shows no harsh edges from front to finish. Well managed tannins are dry, dusty and fine grained. This wine drinks very well by itself.
Production has been around 500 cases per year mostly sold through their mailing list but with some distribution in California, New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. Locally one may be able to find select vintages at Compline in downtown Napa. Plans call for slowly increasing production. For more information, to acquire wine or to join their mailing list, please visit: www.finedisregardwine.com