On this special episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” host Zach Geballe speaks with Heidi Scheid, executive vice president at Scheid Family Wines. The two discuss the company’s latest brand of low-alcohol wines, “Sunny With a Chance of Flowers.”
Grown and made in Monterey County, Calif., these wines clock in at 9 percent ABV and include some of the region’s best varieties: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as a rosé. Tune in to learn more.
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Zach Geballe: From Seattle, Wash., I’m Zach Geballe and this is a special episode of the “VinePair Podcast.” Today I have the pleasure of being joined by Heidi Scheid, the executive vice president and chief sunny officer for Scheid Family Wines. Heidi, thank you so much for your time.
Heidi Scheid: Thank you so much for having me, Zach.
Z: Unpack the job title for us. What does chief sunny officer mean?
H: Well, my real title is executive vice president of Scheid Family Wines, our family-owned and -operated wine company in Monterey County. We were founded by my father, Al Scheid, in 1972, and I have been here for 30 years. Chief sunny officer has come about in the last two years because we have launched a brand in the better-for-you category called “Sunny With a Chance of Flowers.” Our brand manager gave me the name of chief sunny officer.
Z: Excellent. Well, we’re certainly going to get into “Sunny With a Chance of Flowers” and talk a little bit about those wines. But I want to ask a little bit more about the Scheid family and where you’re located. I think for some listeners, Monterey County is one of these appellations that you may have heard of. You probably are aware that Monterey, Calif., exists. Maybe you’ve been to an aquarium or something. But understanding it as a wine-growing region is actually beyond a lot of people, even people who are somewhat into wine. So, Heidi, can you locate us and tell us a little about the region more generally before we talk about some of your wines specifically?
H: Yeah, absolutely. Monterey County is on the Central Coast of California. A lot of people know of Monterey because of the Gulf, the aquarium, as you pointed out, the Concours d’Elegance, which is a great car event, and Laguna Seca. So there are all kinds of reasons to know about Monterey County other than wine grapes. But it also happens to be an amazing region and appellation to grow wine grapes. My father first planted vines there in 1972. He was one of the pioneers of the region. It’s really a beautiful, cool-climate region. The Monterey Bay has a very significant influence on the climate. There are two mountain ranges coming down the Salinas Valley, the Gavilan range to the east, and the Santa Lucia range to the west. And it really creates this incredible environment for growing wine grapes where you can grow these beautiful, aromatic whites and Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the northern part of the county. Coming down towards Paso Robles, about 70 miles down the Salinas Valley, it’s a beautiful spot for Cabernet and Petite Sirah and Petite Verdot. Those big, bold reds.
Z: This is the 50th anniversary for you and for the family wine business. When your dad got the business started, what were some of the first plantings?
H: A lot of French Colombard and Chenin Blanc. I wish we had some of that Chenin Blanc back now. Maybe not so much the French Colombard. We had some weird varietals like Silvaner and Flora and stuff like that. Pinot really isn’t planted that much anymore. No Pinot Noir and no Merlot, that came much later.
Z: I’m curious: You explained it from a geographic standpoint and a little bit about some of the growing conditions. Obviously, you don’t have to have the exact numbers on hand. But size-wise, how much acreage are we talking about roughly? How many different growers or wineries are there in the region?
H: Well, Monterey County has always been typified by having fewer growers of larger sizes. There are about 45,000 planted acres in Monterey County. Today, we grow about 3,000 acres ourselves. Growers do tend to be on the larger size. Much more so than Napa, which has very small pieces of land. I think when Monterey started in the early ’70s, it was more production-style vineyards and that lent itself towards greater acreage.
Z: I see. We’re talking about, as you said, a diverse range of varieties and a diverse range of growing conditions. But you mentioned the cool climate. As we start to transition into talking about the “Sunny With a Chance of Flowers” wines, what is it about the growing conditions in Monterey County that you think make it well suited — obviously for viticulture more broadly — but specifically for the kind of wines you’re trying to make for this brand?
H: Well, it’s very windy. And generally speaking, it’s a cooler climate in Monterey County. There are very long growing seasons. What that allows us to do is to really let the grapes hang on the vine and just develop beautiful flavors. That really comes in handy when you’re starting to remove alcohol. When you’re creating a lower-alcohol wine you really have to start with very big flavors. That’s what Monterey County is known for, great varietal character for the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in particular.
Z: You mentioned removing alcohol, and I don’t want to get into a technical discussion quite yet. But we got to warm up a little bit before we get into that. I do want to start with this question for you, Heidi. When it comes to this category, we’re talking about people who might be looking at wine as a part of their health goals. Obviously, there can be multiple answers. But I’m just curious in general. What do you see as being the reasons why someone would look at a product like “Sunny With a Chance of Flowers?” What are some of the key components that you think help distinguish it?
H: It’s such a great question. We talk about this a lot internally because there are a whole lot of different answers. We try to dig into who is buying this and why. From personal experience in my family, I have a 29-year-old daughter and an 85-year-old mom. I sit in between, and I’m not going to tell you exactly where. But we all kind of drink it for different reasons. My daughter and her friends drink it because they appreciate that sessionability. That’s the word of the day for the millennials. They like to be able to have a wine that they can drink at brunch, that they can take to the beach, that they can have sitting around by the pool. If they’re watching “The Bachelor” on Monday night or something like that, they can have a glass or two and still make it home OK and get up for work the next day. So they appreciate that sessionability. For me, I enjoy having a glass or two of wine in the evening to wind down from the workday, but I also get up pretty early in the morning to exercise. I don’t want to have that morning fog that you get after a couple of glasses of wine or feel crummy. My 85-year-old mom had actually given up drinking alcohol in the last few years until we introduced Sunny. She just felt like, as she had gotten older, that it wasn’t doing her any favors. That maybe it wasn’t great to have combined with any type of medication she was on. Bringing a low-alcohol wine onto the market gave her the ability to still enjoy a glass or two of wine in the evening, something that she had enjoyed her entire life. She actually started to cry the first time that she tried “Sunny With a Chance to Flowers.” She called me up and she said, “Heidi, you’ve allowed me to reclaim part of my life that I thought I had given up forever.” It really works on a lot of different levels for different ages.
Z: Yeah, I imagine that must have been rather satisfying.
H: She’s one of our best customers.
Z: I’m sure. I want to ask a little bit about the origins of the wines. They all clock in at 9 percent alcohol. How did you reach that point? Because I would imagine that when you’re looking at where to situate a wine, where you are removing some of the alcohol, you probably have a pretty reasonable range of final alcohol you could arrive at. So how did 9 percent become that magic number?
H: We did a lot of tasting trials. We did hundreds of tasting trials to come up with what we called the sweet spot. We tested everything from 7 percent to 12 percent. We felt like we needed to be below 11 percent to really be able to call it low alcohol. At 7 percent and 8 percent, we felt like maybe we could do that with the Sauvignon Blanc and it would still have really great varietal character and we could nail it vintage after vintage. But as we started to get into the red varietals, we felt like you really just lost too much. You were just giving up too much to get the low alcohol. It was really finding that balance and we wanted it to be the same across all varietals. So we settled in at 9 percent because we felt like for any varietal we could deliver a wine that really gave consumers that aroma and flavor that they were looking for, and also the mouthfeel and the texture that is so important with wine.
Z: Yeah, and that’s actually a really interesting point. I’ve tasted a number of low-alcohol, no-alcohol, and alcohol- removed wines in the course of doing podcasts and writing and things like that. You mentioned texture and mouthfeel, and I think those are often some of the most difficult things to preserve in wines when you are through one means or another lowering the alcohol content. Again, we don’t have to get into the technical side of it unless you care to. But how do you feel like that’s something that you’ve managed to achieve with these wines?
H: Well, you have to start off with great fruit. We always say that flavors are made in the vineyard. You can do things to wine once you get into the winery, but you can’t inject flavor. So you really have to start with great fruit. That’s where I think we have an advantage in that the “Sunny With a Chance of Flowers” wines are made from our estate-grown fruit in Monterey. We’re already starting with a really great appellation for the varietals that we’re producing. Beyond that, the process of how you remove the alcohol is very important. There are two primary types of technology that are used: spinning cone technology and reverse osmosis. We settled in on reverse osmosis as being the most gentle process and the one that was best able to preserve the flavors and the aromas. We kind of started with reverse osmosis as our base, and then we did some proprietary changes to that technology to really come up with something that we felt would deliver the best wine possible.
Z: Also really interesting in that note to me is that you did mention that you saw it as being important that the wines across the brand have the same specs, which now encompasses five wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a rosé. They all have sort of the same specs, 9 percent alcohol, 85 calories.
H: And zero sugar.
Z: Sorry. Yes, of course. I missed the important one. Was the rationale behind that, I assumed, was to kind of keep things consistent for consumers? But do you feel like there are other benefits to having those consistent measurements for the wines across the brand?
H: We felt so from a consumer point of view. Internally the way that we speak about it, the way our sales team speaks about it, the way our distributors speak about it, to have that consistent messaging all the way across. The primary attributes are zero sugar and 9 percent alcohol and 85 calories. And then all the wines are Monterey appellate, certified sustainable, estate-grown, vegan-friendly, and gluten-free. So you can just make the statement about all the wines in the “Sunny With a Chance of Flowers” family and know that that’s what you’re going to be getting.
Z: It does speak to something that you mentioned, some of those attributes. Sometimes you see wines out in this kind of space that — this isn’t to knock bulk wine, there’s nothing wrong with bulk wine per se — can be pretty hard to say anything definitive about the grapes themselves when maybe even the people buying them are not totally sure where they came from. Is the growing of these grapes any different than what you do for your other wines?
H: No, not really. I think some lower-alcohol wines have taken the approach of harvesting earlier so that they start with less sugar to begin with and sugar converts into alcohol. So therefore they’re ending up with a lower-alcohol wine. We have really found that in order to get the aromatics and the flavor that we want for the Pinot Noir to taste like Pinot Noir, you have to start with fully ripened grapes and grapes with full flavor development. You bring them into the winery and we actually just make wine like we would make a regular-alcohol Pinot Noir or Chardonnay or what have you. Usually, we end up with wine between 13.5 to 14.1, 14.2 percent. And then that’s when we use our proprietary process to remove a portion of the alcohol.
Z: Gotcha. I have a couple more brand-related questions just because it’s been a subject of fascination for us on the podcast recently. The first is, how did you kind of come up with the name and the branding itself? Obviously, when you enter space, you’ve got infinite possibilities. Where did “Sunny With a Chance of Flowers” come from and what do you feel like it means for you and for the brand?
H: “Sunny With a Chance of Flowers” actually was brought to us by a wonderful creative director, Theresa Scripps. At the time when we started talking about producing the wine, we hadn’t settled on it being in the better-for-you category. I just thought it was a wonderful name. It made me smile. It was before Covid, but even before Covid, one could argue that the world could always use more positivity. I just loved the way that it was a charming name that was unconventional because it was so long of a name. You don’t usually see wine names that have so many words in them. I thought it was just different and wonderful. As we started working on the brand and really trying to bring it to life, we merged it with our idea of doing a low-alcohol, low-calorie, zero-sugar wine.
Z: For listeners who may be somewhat familiar with the product itself, you relatively recently added the Cabernet Sauvignon and the rosé, meaning you started out with Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. When you made the decision to add on, what were the considerations there?
H: We always wanted to do a Cabernet, but we weren’t happy when we originally were doing our trials on it. It’s a little bit trickier because, of course, tannin and robustness are characteristics of Cabernet. So you start to remove some of the alcohol and the tannins become more pronounced and it’s not as pleasurable of a drinking experience. We kind of put that one on the back burner and said, “OK, we’re going to keep working on that.” The rosé is exactly the opposite of that. Rosé is a fairly easy wine from a winemaking point of view to make lower alcohol. It tends to be lower alcohol to begin with. Generally speaking, you’re harvesting grapes for a rosé much earlier than you’re harvesting other grapes. That one was kind of a slam dunk. We thought, “Well, this is great.” Coming out of the gate the second time, we can do the rosé, which we’ve really got a great handle on. And then we can make sure that we keep working on the Cabernet until we get it to a point where we’re super happy with it. We were really, really happy with where the Cabernet ended up. We bottled it right before Thanksgiving, and I actually took a bunch of bottles over to my father Al Scheid’s house for Thanksgiving. It was great because I don’t know what time you have Thanksgiving dinner. We used to have it at 5 p.m. in the afternoon and then it was 4 p.m. and then it was 3 p.m. And now it’s at 1 p.m. You’re supposed to get there at 11 a.m. and start drinking. So we just opened up the Sunny and were able to drink Sunny Cabernet from 11 a.m. till 5 p.m. and we were all fine. Nobody got in fights, there were no political arguments, so it was the perfect wine for the situation.
Z: Any wine that can promise that at the Thanksgiving dinner table obviously has a place in the marketplace. Maybe don’t promise that, but at least offer the possibility. I wanted to ask, too, about the element you mentioned of the positivity of the brand. With positivity as a brand identity, people generally respond well, me included. More granularly, are there any things that you guys are doing within that to reinforce that brand value and identity?
H: Lots of things. Each capsule on the brand has a different message of positivity. The Chardonnay is “Choose Happy” and the Pinot Noir is “Glass Half Full.” We have “Power of Positivity” and “Be the Sunshine.” So we very much have that message of positivity threaded throughout the brand as well as through social media, partnering with different influencers and different people outside of the wine space. We partner with organizations that really promote positivity and health and wellness and a well-rounded and moderate lifestyle.
Z: Excellent. I want to talk a little more about enjoying these wines. The answers might be very simple. So if that’s the case, that’s the case. Would you say to someone who picks up a bottle of any of the wines, that their best bet would be to just treat it no differently than they would treat a full-alcohol version of the same variety?
H: Well, it’s going to taste a little bit different. It’s just going to sit on your palate a little bit differently, I should say. We talked about that a little bit a few minutes ago about texture and mouthfeel, and weight is the other component. So it is a lighter style of wine. Let’s say the “Sunny With a Chance of Flowers” is Pinot Noir. It’s not going to taste like a Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley, the kind of bigger California-style Pinot Noir. It’s actually going to taste a lot more like a Burgundian Pinot Noir, where it’s going to be a little bit lighter. I love to drink the Sunny Pinot Noir with a little bit of chill on it. They’re easy-drinking wines. They’re very true to variety. You are definitely going to get those beautiful cherry-berry flavors and aromas that you would expect when you pour a glass of Pinot Noir. But it is going to sit on your palate a little bit lighter.
Z: You mentioned some differences or at least some ways to approach enjoying these wines, including maybe with a little bit of a chill. We’re getting to the part of the podcast where I have to ask the “what comes next?” questions, which are maybe my favorite part of these kinds of things, to be honest. One thing that we’ve been kicking around a lot at the VinePair team and have talked to people about and heard about is, what are some possibilities for wine moving forward? One of the things that’s obviously on a lot of people’s minds is alternative packaging. And cans, in particular, seem like they might be a really natural fit with “Sunny With a Chance of Flowers.” Is that something that you guys are looking at? Obviously, if you can’t break any news here, we understand. I won’t take it personally.
H: We’re an open book, Zach. We’re looking at all kinds of things with Sunny. What’s exciting about the brand is it’s already breaking the mold of traditional wine by doing something different. We have a program that we’re working on right now with Q Mixers where we’re doing different Sunny spritzes and Sunny cocktails. There’s a Sunny mule and a Sunny-rita and all kinds of great things that you can do with Sunny. That’s not something that you would probably do with traditional wine, although you could. But because Sunny is already operating in a somewhat nontraditional space, we can continue to push those boundaries. We’re looking at Sunny spritzes, potentially looking at cans in the future. We’re certainly looking at Sunny sparkling, it’s very appealing.
Z: Sign me up for the sparkling. I could use more sparkling wine and fewer hangovers. So that sounds like a great idea on both fronts. You mentioned the sparkling and some of the other things that are coming. But for people who are a little more focused in the here and now, and people have Google and they can always look this up, but if they want a little more information about getting their hands on these wines, what are some options for folks?
H: We’re available in retailers across the country. Whole Foods, Target, and Kroger are three big accounts that are across the country. Our website is sunnywines.com. While you’re on sunnywines.com, part of our message of positivity is that every year we do sweepstakes to win a year of flowers. So you can enter the sweepstakes and the winner gets monthly flower delivery to their house. That’s kind of lovely. I wish I was eligible for that.
Z: If someone with last name Scheid wins, we’re going to have some questions.
H: Yeah, I know. We would be suspicious, I think.
Z: Absolutely. The last thing I wanted to ask you is when you look at sort of the future of this category and specifically for the Sunny wines, do you see a possible future where people have more options? Obviously, they’re not going to have the same number of options as traditional wine. But theoretically, someone could be deciding if they feel like drinking their low-alcohol Malbec or their low-alcohol GSM blend or their low-alcohol Chenin Blanc. Or do you think that for the time being, people are going to stick to you guys or otherwise to the most well-known and understood wine styles and varieties? Because, obviously, that’s where the bulk of consumers are.
H: Health and wellness is the largest consumer industry in the world. I think that there’s going to continue to be a push to give consumers an alternative. It’s really what opened our eyes to the possibility of low alcohol being something that consumers wanted. Within the company and me in particular, we’re always on the lookout for that lower-alcohol wine. There were years where I was just drinking Vinho Verde because that was the lowest-alcohol wine I could find that was readily available. Now that that box has been opened and there are lower-alcohol brands out there, I think that that will continue.
Z: The success of your wines and a few others that have come into the market relatively recently, I’m sure will continue to embolden you guys and lots of other people to expand the offerings. Because obviously, there’s definitely a market for these products.
H: Yeah. I mean, timing is everything. The timing on this worked out really well. We launched this towards the beginning of Covid. I think it was in June of 2020. We were three months into Covid and we kind of laughed to ourselves and thought, “Wow, maybe we’re going about this the wrong way. Everyone seems to be drinking more.” I think maybe we should make Sunny 19 percent alcohol and people will really appreciate that. But then it kind of came back around. People settled down. They realized, we’ve got to change our habits here and get back into health and wellness. I think that that is a change that we’re seeing around the country, and we’re seeing it in all types of products. It’s not just wine. We see it in everything, I like to say, from dog food to donuts. Who feeds their dog that dog food? When I was a kid, you just fed them all your table scraps and some mushy canned food. Now, there’s all the gourmet stuff out there. We all feed our dogs stuff that we would eat ourselves. It’s the same thing with all types of products around the market, and wine is no different. There needs to be an alternative that allows people to continue to pursue their health and wellness goals and still enjoy a glass of wine or two in the evening.
Z: To be able to find that middle ground that I think people want to be in and that maybe, until recently, they had to kind of choose one or the other. Excellent. Well, Heidi, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. I appreciate getting to try the wines and learn a little bit more about them and about the “Sunny With a Chance of Flowers” brand. But more than that, the idea and the ethos behind them. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
H: Thanks for having me, Zach. I had a great time.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.