Scherrer Winery is easy to miss. With nothing but a hand-written sign suggesting the potential of parking and pointing visitors in the right direction, Scherrer Winery is housed in an unassuming warehouse nestled amongst rolling Sonoma County vineyards down a recently paved road outside Graton. The building is nondescript with a large wooden table and two benches outside. A repurposed wine barrel reading Scherrer is positioned next to a door, which is the only indication of an entrance. Once inside the warehouse, there is no standard tasting room. Rather, you walk right into the thick of it, tasting wine in a storage space surrounded by stacks upon stacks of barrels, harvesting equipment and the miscellaneous touches of life. (Fred was restringing his Martin acoustic on a large folding table in the center of the main room when my partner and I visited on a particularly sunny Sunday to talk about wine.) But you don’t go to Scherrer Winery for a polished tasting experience. You go because of the wines. And you go to meet Fred Scherrer himself.
Fred first learned how to make wine on his family’s farm in Alexander Valley, California. He inherited a collective sensibility about wine from the lifestyle in the area in the 1930’s. At that point in time, agricultural families were all making their own table wine. The wine was simple, easy to drink and meant for everyday consumption with food. People in the community would use grapes for trading, and they would drink homemade wine at their tables every day. Fred cut his teeth on this simple wine, but his true artistry blossomed after attending the University of California at Davis where he studied viticulture and through his time working with Fieldstone, Greenwood and Dehlinger. Through these experiences he inherited an ethos on wine that celebrates the quality of ‘fancy’ material but does not disregard the value of everyday wine for an everyday meal. After striking out on his own in 1998, Fred continued to integrate this ethos into the wines he makes today.
What you find with the wines Fred makes is something genuine and real. Wines that, like the winery itself, are more than what meets the eye. Wines that whisper of the Old World while showcasing what’s beautiful about the New. Fred believes everything you need is in the grape, and he strives for structure, balance and texture even at the expense of color.
“A good friendly wine needs to have some structure to it,” says Fred. “I look at balance in wine. To me balance is not about a number. It’s not about the alcohol [percentage] being low. You have round things in wine and angular things in wine, and if those things are in proper proportion, then you have balance.
Like his wines, Fred has a hidden complexity that is easy to miss. Part California farm boy, part professor, Fred has layers like his wine has layers. When you first meet Fred, you might not realize all that lies beneath, and it is the same with his wines. His wines are hugely approachable and amazingly drinkable, but there is an almost endless depth of complexity once you begin to explore them. And Fred is this way as well. He has a causal way about him, but he is incredibly knowledgeable and ready to talk about wine. He also has some strong opinions, (For example, he told us that “Pinot Noir doesn’t tolerate stupidity” and that “It’s a shame that Napa Valley is where most people stop thinking about Cabernet in California.”), but he also does not put any other winemakers down or insult other wines, despite the differences.
In a world of big, bold and jammy California wines, Fred’s wines are more subtle and nuanced. His winemaking process is his own – one that highlights the grapes and facilitates the magic of fermentation. He sees blending as an additive process. He has worked with the grapes long enough to know that vintages differ in characteristic but also that there are significant consistencies to individual sites that transcend these vintage themes. And the way he knows when his wine is ready is really quite simple.
“If we [my wife and I] are not fighting over the last glass in the bottle, then I’m not done,” Fred says.
In similar contrast to his wines and other California wines, Fred is a standout anti-marketer amidst the roaring sea of wine marketing. Fred wants the wines to speak for themselves, and he is not out to sell them to anybody and everybody. Similarly to the way he approaches making wine, (by making what he would want to drink), he directs his wine to the type of people who would be interested in it in the first place. These are folks he describes as “people who pay attention to what they eat.” And this is not just an older, more seasoned clientele. Rather, Fred has been noticing more and more young people coming to his winery, and this gives him a great deal of hope, excitement and energy about the future of wine in California.
“I see a lot of younger people coming in that totally get it,” says Fred. “They’re looking for something that’s real. They have a very good sense of sniffing out the bullshit. And I think that’s great. They don’t want to be told by some expert what is good… The younger people who are coming here, they are validating it with people they know. People they eat and drink with. And they’re learning from each other. They help each other find the things that they like, and I think that’s super healthy.”
As foodie culture grows, so does the potential for wines like the ones Fred makes. These are wines that are meant to be drunk with food, and they are wines that are happiest when they have been resting for a number of years. They are wines that Scherrer sees as being right in the middle of the polar ends of lean, austere ‘anti-flavor’ wines with low alcohol and rich, round high-alcohol wines.
“I call it [my wines] age worthy, food friendly,” says Fred. “That’s what I want. That’s somewhere in the middle.”
This past New Year’s, my partner and I experienced Fred’s age-worth-food-friendly wine firsthand. Over a delicious meal at Heirloom, we opened a bottle of his ’97 Chardonnay. And it was beautiful. No oxidation. Great minerals. Bright flavors. The wine poured the color of golden rod, and it held up beautifully as we drank it with our appetizers: gnocci with brown butter and sage and a Dungeness crab and frisee salad. It all felt so right, that this was how Scherrer wine was meant to be drunk, in the company of loved ones and good food, giving great pleasure. Because that is ultimately what it is all about for Fred: pleasure.
“First and foremost, I think a wine should give pleasure,” says Fred. “And if it doesn’t do that, it doesn’t succeed.”
The winery does not have a tasting room, but Fred holds open houses in April, August and mid November. To learn more, sign up for the mailing list online.Fred is also able to make some tasting appointments, winemaking schedule permitting, so please contact in advance to schedule a tasting. To learn more about Scherrer Winery, sign up for the mailing list.
4940 Ross Road Sebastopol, CA 95472
www.scherrerwinery.comEditorial: Alexandra Stieber
Photography: David Brown. You can see more of Alexandra and David’s work on their blog, www.thisispossible.org