North Coast AVA
Winemaker of the Year in 1996 by WINE NEWS
Jedediah Steele is arguably the most recognizable winemaker in California. The fact is that he achieved a great deal of this notoriety through a rather amazing court action that totally captured the wine public’s imagination for its three-week duration. The 1991 court case pitted Steele against his former employer Jess Jackson, owner of the gigantic Kendall-Jackson Winery whose case production at the time had just reached over a million cases.
The case on paper was quite simple; Jed Steele was seeking his severance package from a winery that he had guided from the 35,000 case level to its present million cases. After receiving one payment of his severance, the checks from K-J stopped and Steele sued. The case became big news since Jackson was a landmark attorney from Northern California with a huge staff and Jed Steele was a small time winemaker from Mendocino with a minute chance of winning.
Steele ultimately persevered and gained the admiration of the wine industry that had already begun to tire of Jess Jackson’s aggressive methods of increasing K-J’s sales and his casual treatment of former employees. The trial’s end marked the beginning of Jed Steele’s rise to the top of the ladder of independent winery owners.
Steele had started his career some years before, around 1968 in Napa Valley but had left the valley winery world that he felt was quite provincial at the time to seek his fortune on the East Coast. He remained close to some of his former winery friends and was coaxed back to California in 1973 when he began to see that the wine industry was starting to perk up. Sensing the need for proper credentials, Jed enrolled at UC Davis and earned his degree and masters.
In 1974, he became the winemaker for Edmeades Vineyards in Mendocino and stayed in that position for nine years until the opportunity to join Kendall-Jackson presented itself in 1983. He guided the fledgling winery through its growth stages until the pressures and stresses of such a large winery caused him to loose his enthusiasm. He sought his release and agreed to a severance package with the prospects of remaining on as a consultant. After one payment, his checks stopped and the rest is history.
In 1992, he decided to do his own thing and founded Steele/Shooting Star Wines. His goal was to create a small winery that could utilize top quality fruit and produce world-class wines. He chose to utilize fruit from a number of sources throughout California and initially selected the finest vineyards in each area as his rape suppliers.
To his credit, Jed Steele has stuck to his original plan and grown his winery at what some insiders would consider a snail’s pace. Today he produces a mere forty thousand cases between his Steele label and his secondary Shooting Star label, small volume by today’s industry standards.
“I might eventually build us up to around 50,000 cases,” Steele explained. “What’s really unique about our operation is the fact that I had had the same grape sources since I first began in 1992. Even though I get a number of calls each week from outside growers, some of which produce outstanding fruit, I’m really happy with what I already have under contract. I feel I have the best access to outstanding fruit and wonderful personal relationships that are as solid as the earth.”
Jed Steele produces extremely high quality wines that have won critical acclaim. His career is filled with numerous awards including his designation as Winemaker of the Year in 1996 by WINE NEWS.
He is also a happy and satisfied man, able to work in an environment that allows him to pursue his life’s goals in an atmosphere and setting of his own choosing. He is particularly proud of his 1998 wines; a vintage he feels received unfair treatment from the national winepress. He points to some exceptional fruit from varietals other than Cabernet Sauvignon that was absolutely outstanding.
“Cabernet got a bad rap and all the other varietals suffered too,” he added. “It was ridiculous because there were some truly wonderful wines made, including our Bien Nacido Chardonnay.” We at Gold Medal Wine Club most certainly agree.
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