By Andrei Khalip LISBON (Reuters Life!) - Mark Schultz has spent just a few years in Portugal, has no previous wine-making experience and has amassed a heap of awards for his red wines.
The financial trader, who comes from the U.S. “beer capital” of Milwaukee, pins the success of his Mark Stephen Schultz Selection range on a lifelong passion for wine, a love for chemistry in college and a more somber “seminal moment,” when he was operated on for cancer before moving to Portugal in 2004.
“It took the scare of death when I was 50 to say, okay you’ve been talking about it all your life. Either let’s do this right now or shut up,” the cheerful 57-year-old said, holding a glass during a wine-tasting in his spacious villa by a vineyard.
His website (www.msswines.com) proclaims that his plantation in Cartaxo near Lisbon is the realization of an “American dream.” But Schultz admits that “more properly it’s a dream of an American,” adding with a laugh, in reference to sizeable costs: “Not everyone in America is stupid enough for this.”
His 2005 Touriga Nacional Reserva wine won the silver medal in the National Bottled Wine Competition last year, gold in the prestigious national Coimbra contest and figures in Portugal 2008/09 Wine Guide. Others, like Private Reserve and Touriga Nacional/Syrah have also won national and regional awards.
“It was cool winning all these awards. But then I think I did expect it. I never like to do anything half-assed,” he says.
Schultz, who had lived in Spain before Portugal, was lured by the rich, intensely red Portuguese wines and by the blending of various vine castes to get the best from each, which he says appealed to the trained chemist inside him.
Schultz’s own plantation is yet to produce a wine, the first harvest from last year has been fermented and awaits its day.
His Selection Reserve line, of which about 350,000 bottles have been produced since 2005, is made from grapes he buys from farmers who grow the vines to his specifications in various regions. The grapes are then transformed into wines at wineries of his choice, using their abundant spare capacities.
“I’ll keep buying grapes when my own wine is ready. To me it’s a very simple business - leveraging your brand across the board. People tend to stick to their region here when choosing wines. And I think, let’s go where the action is,” he said.
The price of his wines ranges from 7.5 euros ($10.22) a bottle to 25 euros. He is preparing to start exporting to the United States.
He says the cooperation he got from farmers and wineries was a pleasant surprise: “I had thought it was dog-eat-dog.”
Without revealing his methods, which he calls in jest “magic fingers,” he says his wines combine Californian techniques and technology with Portuguese grapes and a drop of local tradition.
“If the cost is reasonable, I‘m all for improving things, all the way through the process from fertilizers to fermentation techniques, to enhancing the flavor after fermentation.”
“In Portugal tradition is very important. But just because your father and your grandfather did something, it doesn’t mean it’s right ... But there are local customs and traditions that you’d have to be a fool not to take into consideration.”
Raised in Milwaukee, Schultz has been surprisingly cold to beer, but wine was love at first sip, to the point that he started researching and collecting wines in his teens.
”I remember those fraternity parties where everyone was drinking beer and whisky, puking on the floor, and I go there with a nice bottle of wine, a corkscrew and a glass, and they were all asking: “What’s wrong with this guy?”
“I think it held interest for me because there’s a lot of science in wine and I‘m a science guy,” he said.
His science-like approach to stock-trading, which he says is all but crisis-proof as it involves short-term trades with a target price and stop-loss, is what made his dream possible. In addition to the wine business, he still publishes a newsletter for investors, based on his daily analysis of trade charts.
In these difficult times, he says he wants to give a positive example to investors: “The important thing is that wise trading and wise investment can finance your dream.”
Editing by Paul Casciato