Pruett finds fast lane to great syrah

05/04/2014 12:00 AM

05/01/2014 2:29 PM

Scott Pruett always has been a fast learner; that’s a crucial skill for race car drivers.

Pruett, the winningest sports car driver of all time, also applied that same quick-on-the-uptake ability to his second passion: winemaking. In his Pruett Vineyard’s first three years, his syrahs and cabernets have earned nothing but 90-and-up scores from Wine Spectator. “The Pruett Syrahs are among the most aromatic and expressive examples (of syrah) not just from the Sierra foothills, but from anywhere in California,” the Wine Spectator wrote in February.

Now 54, the Sacramento native had envisioned winemaking as something to do after he retires from racing, but he continues to rack up victories on the track. A seven-time Grand-Am champion, he won back-to-back races in March and April in the new Tudor United series. A former Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, Pruett drives the No. 01 Prototype for Chip Ganassi Racing.

When he’s off the track, wine is a priority. At his hillside home above Auburn, Pruett planted a 3-acre vineyard – creating the terraces and placing the vines himself – and now makes his own wines.

We caught up with Pruett while he prepared for today’s Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

When are you going to slow down?

My wife (Judy) says I’m a full-time race car driver and full-time winemaker. A lot of exciting things have been going on, for sure.

Wine Spectator named your winery “one to watch.” What’s been the impact?

It has been incredible. No. 1, it’s been great for all of the Sierra foothills (wineries). We’re getting exposure for Placer County and attracting attention to Auburn. ... Wine Spectator (recently) rated more than 200 California syrahs; guess who was No. 2?

We were invited by Wine Spectator to New York City last year; 200 wineries globally were asked to come pour. When you consider there are 6,000 in California alone, that’s an honor. It was both exciting and humbling. Here we are, shoulder to shoulder, with Chateau Margaux, Rothschild, Screaming Eagle, Penfolds; it was the best of the best, and we were right in the middle. That’s pretty cool.

Other sports celebrities have wines released under their names, but you’ve done a lot more.

I do all the winemaking. My family is very involved, too; we’re working together. I’m not just putting my name on it. It’s very intimate.

Your family’s names are on the bottles, too?

All of our estate wines are named for our kids: Lucky Lauren for our oldest daughter, Taylor Reserve for our second daughter and CSP for our son, Cameron Scott Pruett. We do a very, very, very limited cab named after my wife, Judy Marie; that’s only five cases. Each year I’ve won a championship, we released a Championship Cuvee. Our goal is to produce really great wine. We also do a Napa cab with purchased grapes and a pinot noir with grapes from the Sonoma coast. ... We total about 500 to 600 cases.

Did you always aim at the top?

I didn’t just want to go for a medal at the State Fair – not that that’s not exciting, too. But I wanted to run with the big boys. That’s pretty important in this business, to be able to compete with the best. And that’s exciting.

Do you plan to open a tasting room?

I’m so time-limited; I spend so much time on the road – racing is still my focal point. I don’t really see us having a tasting room until – maybe never. Right now, Carpe Vino (in Auburn) is where people go to taste our wine. It’s a great place with great food and a good fit for us. We also sell through our wine club (at www.pruettvineyard.com); it’s going very strong.

What’s the biggest difference between racing and winemaking?

In racing, everything is a secret. You don’t share anything. If you do, it’s like espionage. In wine, everybody shares everything. I’ve never been in an industry where I can just talk to people. Everybody is so welcoming, so open and free with their advice. It’s helped me a lot.

This is such a passion for me, I love every aspect, from the berry to the bottle. It’s very scientific but also so much artistry. There are so many decisions; it’s so intriguing to me. At the end of the day, you drink great wine. What could be better?

 

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