As one of the Eastside’s most notable chefs, we’ve followed Trellis Restaurant’s Brian Scheehser throughout his exploits as farmer, chef, cheese maker, brewer, and host of many James Beard Foundation dinners. Scheesher’s days apparently contain more hours than the average person’s because now he is adding winemaker to that list. He founded the aptly named Piggyback Cellars in 2011, producing micro-négociant vins de garage — that’s Fancy Nancy for very limited-production garage wines (55 cases per year) — with grapes sourced from Crawford Vineyard in the Yakima Valley.
Q: Was there a specific moment that rang the “I want to make wine” bell, or has it been a long-held desire that finally found its opportunity?
A: As a chef at Trellis, it just seemed like a natural progression from food and cooking to wine. I grew up with a grandfather that made wine from grapes in his backyard. He had a wine press in his basement. I can remember as a little boy sitting on his lap and getting to take a sip of his homemade wine. I can still see the barrels and the smell of the wine from the wine cellar in my head today. So, I’ve always been a lover of great wines and intrigued by the process. My farm has been located at the heart of the Woodinville wine country for the last 10 years – it’s only natural to become a part of it.
Q: How did it feel picking up that first truckload of grapes?
A: Exciting and frightening! I couldn’t fathom what a ton of grapes was until I actually saw it. Our first crusher de-stemmer was a hand crank, and we all took turns turning the crank to get us through the first batch. Never start out with a hand crank crusher, de-stemmer, or press. It took us hours to get through the first batch of grapes. Our arms were all killing us from turning the crank, and everybody suggested we keep doing the I Love Lucy skit and stomp the grapes. I kept telling them, “No feet in the wine!” Our arms hurt and were sore for two days after.
Q: You seem to be specializing in Syrah. Is there anything in particular that you love about that varietal?
A: I’ve always loved French wines, and with the great Syrahs that we have here in Washington, it was a perfect place to start. I love the rich cherry notes, how the color varies from year to year, and the all-around structure that the grape produces.
Q: How do you hone your winemaking skills?
A: It’s a learning process – I am always looking at how I can make things better by reading and researching. I want to make wines naturally without adding so many additives, and manipulating the flavors of the grape.
Q: Any parting wisdom for would-be winemakers?
A: Make sure you have a lot of help because winemaking is so much work. It takes a lot of beer to make good wine and keep the helpers hydrated.
Piggyback Cellars wines can be purchased online and at the Heathman Hotel’s Trellis Restaurant.
2012 Piggyback Cellars Syrah
Pair this gentle Washington red with the Trellis Sonoma duck. At home, break out the soft French cheese, or pair with smoky barbecue ribs.
2013 Piggyback Cellars Roussanne
Scheehser suggests pairing this Italian-style amber wine with the Trellis pear-gorgonzola flatbread. At home, he says it goes great with fried oysters and sardines.