Bitten By the Wine Bug

by Scott Harvey

Welcome back guest blogger Scott Harvey of Scott Harvey Wines, here revealing his origin story to the world.

When sitting around enjoying a glass of wine with a group of fellow wine people, the conversation invariably comes around to “How did you get bit by the wine bug?” or how did you get into the wine business? Drew Thurman aka WineDrew, a winedavid39 associate, was by the other day and after a few bottles of wine he asked. I told him over another bottle of wine and he goes, “You got to write it down so we can put it on the blog.” So here it is.

Although my step-grandfather grew grapes, I did not grow up in the wine business, being the son of a high school teacher. While in high school, I was sent to Germany by AFS (American Field Service) on an eight week summer exchange program. I was placed with a family in the picturesque wine region, Rheinland Pfalz. The first day I was there they set me down and gave me a glass of Riesling. I’m thinking I’m going to like this. Looking out the window all you could see were hill after hill of beautifully manicured vineyards. My first sentence was, “Does this wine come from those grapes?” They said, “Sure it does, do you want to see where it is made?” They took me into the basement and pulled me another glass from the barrel. Ever since then, “I’ve been bitten by the wine bug!” Check out our YouTube video taken in the vineyard looking up at that window where I was sitting 38 years ago.

Having a real low draft number, I came back from that idyllic AFS experience, basically to go to Vietnam. Luckily, Nixon ended the draft and I didn’t have to go. After going to college for a while, I set my sights on becoming a winemaker. What better place to learn than back in Germany. After working the 1974 harvest at Montevina for $1.25 an hour, I saved about $600 and set out. I had a full beard and long sun bleached blond hair down to the center of my back. With limited funds, I needed to get there as cheaply as possible. With a backpack and a five string Vega banjo in hand, a buddy and I started our trip by hopping a freight train down through the Central Valley of California and over the Tehachapi’s to San Bernardino. Today, some of the wine I make is at a custom crush winery in Lodi right along those very same train tracks. I always smile as a train goes flying by, still drawn to look and see if there are any open box cars.

From San Bernardino we hopped another train to El Paso, Texas. In El Paso, we were caught by the railroad yard “Bull” detective and thrown out of the yard. So, we had to start hitchhiking our way across the longest driest state in the Union. The beard was lost along the way in San Antonio. Hitchhiking across the country, especially carrying a banjo in the south, you realize that this country is full of wonderful people, always willing to help you out with a warm meal and a roof over your head. Southern hospitality is alive and real. We did get stuck in Mobile, the local Sheriff wanting to take us to jail. I remember humming the Bob Dillon song “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again”. The Sheriff didn’t think it was funny.

On Christmas day we finally made it to Miami where we met up with friends. My buddy now staying behind, I made my way to Tampa Bay where I paid passage on a German phosphate freighter to Rotterdam. We left on New Year’s Eve. Floating out of Tampa harbor at midnight with a Becks beer in hand, I remember looking at the lights of the city, thinking, it’s going to be a long time before I see my home again. Knowing German, I got along well with the crew and spent two weeks steaming across the north Atlantic drinking my share of beer. When we came to port in Rotterdam, I had a hard time getting into the country. With little money, long hair, and no one knowing I was coming, they took me to be another young American hippy wanting to participate in the Amsterdam drug scene. As of yet, I had not told my German AFS exchange parents I was even coming.

I did get in, and started hitching my way across Europe. With $150 left in my pocket, I showed up at my AFS parents’ doorstep. Totally surprising them, I claimed “I want to become a winemaker.” They were so excited to see me and offered to let me stay there. My German father, a 6 ft plus ex SS officer from the war, said “First thing is, you need to cut off that hair.” So, off to the barber I went. The barber cropped the ponytail against my head and cut it off, then proceeded with the haircut. I know some lady in Germany is wearing that hair today. I have never grown it out since.

Having been born to American parents in Germany, I have both an American and German birth certificate. With the German birth certificate I had minimal trouble finding an apprenticeship with K. Fitz Ritter in Bad Durkheim and dropping into the second year of a two year winemaking and vineyard management program at Weinbau Schule Neustadt. It was a wonderful experience. To this day my classmates are still great friends and I still call my German mother once a week. This month, the son of one of my classmates is coming to visit us to start an apprenticeship in the Napa Valley.

After completing the Weinbau Schule, I again hitchhiked to Luxemburg and flew to New York City. The city was on strike and there was garbage piled 6 feet high all over the streets - a shock after such an idyllic time in the Rheinland Pfalz. I bought a bus ticket all the way through New Jersey to the first town in Pennsylvania. I met a student on the bus who put me up, at the discomfort of his girlfriend. I got up early, leaving them a bottle of wine and a thank you note and walked out into a beautiful wooded landscape covered by a dusting of fresh snow. Seven days later and seven dollars poorer, I was home in Amador County starting my career as an assistant winemaker back at Montevina Winery.