Dr. William ”Rusty” Gaffney is a longtime supporter of Fred Scherrer’s wines and writes enthusiastically about him in his newsletter The Prince of Pinot. In fact, we owe our relationship with Fred to Rusty, who introduced us years ago.
It is not unusual to find that a winemaker’s personality is reflected in the style of his wines. Fred Scherrer is a modest, cerebral and a very grounded and practical vintner who crafts wines that reflect a similar personality of restraint, complexity and user friendliness. His tall stature, long curly hair and full beard seem to emphasize his scholarly manner. That is not to say that his wines are not exciting. Fred does have a little wild side in him as well, harboring a passion for guitars and loud rock and roll music.
Fred works out of a very modest winery facility which was once an apple-picking shed at the end of a gravel road in Sebastopol. The winery is strategically isolated so he can avoid confrontation with neighbors who are not as enthusiastic about wine as he is. The absence of a sign on the road to the winery reflects this. The relative isolation of the winery also allows him to indulge in his music at any time of the day or night. Who knows, this music may ramp up the amplitude of his wines adding a bit of Jimi Hendrix vibrancy.
Fred grew up around wine, assisting his father farm the family’s Zinfandel vineyard in the Alexander Valley region of Sonoma County. Like many teenagers, he developed an interest in alcohol in high school and began making wine at age 15 at home with his parent’s approval. His uncle Mario used to tease him about his winemaking, calling his wine “Zinfandoodle” rather than Zinfandel. He later earned a degree in viticulture and enology from University California Davis and worked at Fieldstone, Greenwood Ridge and finally Dehlinger wineries. He assisted Tom Dehlinger at Dehlinger Winery initially, then took over the winemaking duties and stayed ten years. It was here that he developed his winemaking maxim: Be patient. Let the fruit speak. Listen. Touch lightly. Watch closely. Listen. With encouragement from Tom Dehlinger and his family, in 1991 he began crafting Zinfandel sourced from his father’s vineyard. In 1998 he left Dehlinger to make the Scherrer Winery his full time occupation.
Fred’s modesty has led him to retain a low profile. He has been accused by his followers of trying too hard not to sell his wine. It wasn’t until 2005 that he succumbed to the urgings of others to replace his label which prominently featured the variety inside the bottle with a new modern label displaying the Scherrer name at the forefront.
Fred is multi talented and produces several varieties including Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Rosé, and Pinot Noir. All the wines are consistently fine. His wines are never heavy-handed or manipulated, just nurtured to reach their full potential. He acts more like a caretaker than an intruder in fashioning his wines.
Scherrer Pinot Noirs are both blends and vineyard-designate wines sourced from various vineyards in Sonoma County including the Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast. As he has explored the various vineyard sites, he has employed an increasingly brutal blending selection for his various bottlings. The wines are typically de-stemmed, not crushed, and fermented in simple open top fermenters and manually punched down. They are barreled very shortly after pressing and allowed to rest on their lees for 6 to 10 months before first being racked and blended. Generally, the wines receive 16 to 18 months of barrel time before bottlling. The Pinot Noirs are never filtered. Fred insists on holding back his wines until they are ready to drink and it is not unusual for him to have two or three vintages stored in the winery. In addition, he purposely retains a library stock of wines and releases them periodically. He is currently offering wines that date back as far as 1999.
Total production is 6,000 to 8,000 cases. Fred could produce more in his winery, but refuses unless he is able to find proper vineyard sources. Such is the mindset of a true artisan.