History of Wine in Northern California – Sonoma Beginnings
Historically the center of winemaking in Northern California, Sonoma is the home to more old vineyards than almost any other region in Northern California. The oldest vineyard was founded in 1857, and not too far behind, before the turn of the century Scherrer Vineyards was purchased.
Sonoma County boasts a wide diversity of soils and climates, so much so that 50 different grape varietals thrive there, over 16 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) – a winemaker’s dream. Many of Sonoma’s wineries are family affairs, some handed from generation to generation, and Scherrer Winery is no exception.
Fred Scherrer, owner and winemaker of Scherrer Winery, reveals that producing wine was a tradition begun by his grandfather, after his great grandfather acquiring the land in 1899.
“My grandfather planted the oldest Zinfandel vines we work with in 1912 at the age of 21. The family used to grow their own food like everyone else, which included making a couple barrels of wine. Once there was sound jug wine available, there was no need to making home wine. They did not bottle [their wine], simply drawing from the barrel. By the end of the barrel, my dad said it was more fit for salad dressing, than drinking.”
Fred, himself, started making wine when he was a teenager, in the mid-1970s, with what he calls “a normal teenage interest in alcoholic beverages.” His relationship with wine and the vineyards led him to UC Davis, employment at Greenwood Ridge Winery and then later at Dehlinger Winery in the 1980s. While he launched his own label, Scherrer Winery in 1991, he started full time in the 1997/1998 winter.
Winemaking Philosophy – It Starts in the Vineyard
Scherrer’s favorite wine region, he admits, might be Sonoma County, “There is no place in the world where there is the diversity of soil juxtaposed with the diversity of climate in such a short distance. It is all here pretty much. It allows someone like me to work with a hugely diverse set of varieties and conditions in an intimate way, by visiting vines and observing them during the ripening phase. Timing of harvest is critical to the style/shape of the wine. I do this by tasting and observing rather than measuring juice chemistry.”
Scherrer’s approach to winemaking is to make wines that show their true character with age. As a counterpoint to various trends of minimal manipulation in winemaking, Scherrer is careful to use the term “minimal manipulation,” as wines don’t just make themselves. With the understanding that great wines start in the vineyard, Scherrer carefully monitors the progress of his grapes during the growing season, and then allows them to express themselves without fining or filtration (with the exception of his dry rosé).
Scherrer’s careful attention to viticultural practices and winemaking techniques have not only made his wines high accoladed, but have made him one of Sonoma County’s most sought after winemakers. Scherrer’s wines are for all occasions, but mostly “food occasions.”
“Zinfandoodle and rosé are for every day, while the others are designed to gain complexity and interest for many years in bottle, and therefore have more special properties, making them more interesting for special occasions or dinners.”
Scherrer Winery – Then and Now
Reflecting back on how far Scherrer Winery has come since it began in 1997, Fred is, “delighted to be able to make wines the way [he] want[s] and to have great control over [his] own time.” After working with Tom Dehlinger at Dehlinger winery for a decade Scherrer had added Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay to the Scherrer portfolio with the 1997 vintage. Scherrer found self-employment “exhilarating, liberating, and burdensome all at the same time. Life is not without risk and some of us tolerate the unknown without excessive anxiety than others.” Even as consumer trends fluctuate, between super-ripe California style to the current trend of slightly under-ripe wines, Scherrer has remained true to his vision of wine, “the middle, which satisfies my definition of a potentially great wine: deliciousness, food friendliness, and age-worthiness.”
New and exciting things are on the horizon for Scherrer Winery, from starting with only Zinfandel, to adding Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, Scherrer currently produces about a dozen varietals, about half of which are Pinot Noir (and what a beautiful expression of the varietal they are!). The newest venture for Scherrer is producing Grenache, set to release a 2013 blend, called “Huntsman” in 2017:
“My dad, sister, and I agree that Grenache would do well on the property in [South Eastern] Alexander Valley. I have been working with the variety since 2011 and am exploring blends with Syrah and/or Zinfandel.”
From one varietal to over a dozen, through multiple generations, Scherrer Winery is truly a longstanding family affair. Scherrer still uses Zinfandel grapes that his grandfather planted in 1912, making a very different version that his first efforts at winemaking. When asked who, living or dead, he would share a bottle of wine with, he responded:
“My grandfather who planted the Zinfandel vines in 1912. I’d share the 2012 Centennial bottling with him. He died when I was about 19, and while I was making home wine at that time it would be great to share my mature efforts intermingled with his and his son’s (my father’s) care of the vineyard. I miss him more than I care to remember. He made it to the same age my own father is right now. It makes me think a bit more about perspective.”
When the sun is setting, the weather is perfect and the work day is over, Fred winds down with: "Wine, woman, and song. A satisfying meal in good company with some nice music is hard to beat."
Join Fred Scherrer and friend/musical muse Master Sommelier Michael Jordan as they play us some tunes while we sip and savor some of Scherrer Winery's wines. Tickets for this Saturday, January 21, Grapes & Guitars can be purchased here. Limited Seats Available.