Our friend John Dawson does a nice job of capturing the spirit of Fred Scherrer, “The Humble Rockstart You’ve Never Met“, Fred’s wines, his winery, and his love of guitars in this piece from The Sonoma Wine Journal. Read on to learn more about Fred, and then hear him in action in the intro to each of our “Ask a Winemaker” videos, where the music is composed and played by Fred himself.
Through a cloud of beige dust kicked up from the gravel road, I see the outline of an industrial building that could not be more out of place here on the floor of the bucolic Green Valley. It’s mid-afternoon, and the curtilage around the no-frills structure is so devoid of activity that the site looks almost abandoned. A knock on the side door goes unanswered. I step inside, into what appears to be a dimly lit recording studio. There is a rack of electric guitars on the side of the wall immediately to my left (is that a Gibson hollow-body?), a keyboard and microphone stand in the middle of the room, and on the right, an effects rack filled with various recording equipment. As I put down my oversized Latin Percussion conga, a door on the far side of the room swings open, and I catch the faint smell of wine and the warm smile of the most humble rock star you’ve never met, Fred Scherrer of Scherrer Winery.
Soft spoken, tall, and gangly, with a scruffy dark beard and lumberjack shirt, Fred bears a close resemblance to Beastie Boy bassist MCA (Adam Yauch) circa Paul’s Boutique. By the time that album was released (1989), Fred, a third-generation winegrower, had already studied enology at U.C. Davis, worked at Field Stone Winery, put in three years at Greenwood Ridge in Mendocino County, and begun a stint as associate winemaker at Dehlinger Winery. During his tenure with Tom Dehlinger, Fred gained an understanding and appreciation of the nuances of site character in the Goldridge-laden soil of Dehlinger’s vineyards off of Vine Hill Road, which are located in the northeastern portion of Sebastopol, only a couple of miles from the warehouse where Fred and his wife, Judi, now make their own wine.
Fred established Scherrer Winery in 1991, while still serving as associate winemaker at Tom Dehlinger’s eponymous winery. Dehlinger allowed Fred to make and store the first couple of vintages of the Scherrer wines at the Dehlinger facility. Ed Scherrer, Fred’s father and a long-time Alexander Valley grape grower, supplied Fred with Zinfandel and other grapes under a deferred payment schedule, in exchange for which Fred ultimately paid more for the fruit than his father would have received from other buyers. Scherrer’s first vintage amounted to 600 cases, and current production is around 4000 cases annually.
After an hour-plus jam session in the music studio/computer room, during which Fred displayed his mastery with the guitar and his fondness for classic rock (we covered Cream, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles, switching off vocal duties), we moved into the central barrel room to discuss Fred’s winemaking philosophy. To this day, Fred still does all the cellar work himself, and makes wines that he “wants to taste.” He finds making Pinot Noir the most fun, Cabernet Sauvignon the easiest, and Zinfandel the most difficult, the latter assertion one that I have heard from a number of winemakers in Sonoma. In terms of his French oak barrel program, Fred thinks that Rousseau barrels and Francois Freres barrels work especially well together. Tasting through his wines, it is clear that Fred places a premium on balance, purity, and site expression over flashy oak and high alcohol.
Scherrer’s 2006 bottling amounted to 1800 cases of Pinot Noir, 900 cases of Zinfandel, 90 cases of Syrah, and the remainder divided between Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and a dry Rose. Fred believes that his Russian River Valley blend is typically as good or better than his single vineyard wines, and tasting his easygoing cherry and sassafras dominated RRV bottling, it is hard to argue otherwise. Moreover, consumers should take note, as the Scherrer Sonoma County and Russian River Valley Pinot Noir bottlings are consistently THE best Pinot Noir values in the U.S. market.
As for his 2006’s, Fred sees it as a good vintage, with some variability based upon yields and botrytis. He did not use any whole clusters for his Syrah in ‘06 because he felt the raw materials with which he worked were not appropriate. In 2006, and in most vintages, his Pinot Noirs are aged in 30 to 40% new French oak. Fred uses practically no new oak in his Syrah. All of the Scherrer Chardonnay goes through malolactic fermentation.
Scherrer also makes a variety of Zinfandel wines. Regarding his non-vintage “Zinfandoodle” bottling, the back-story on the unusual name is as follows: When Fred was about 15, his father gave him permission to make a little wine at home. One of Fred’s uncles, Mario, tasted the wine, which was a Zinfandel, and said, “Fred, don’t make any of that zinfandoodle, make me something good, like a muscadoodle.” My, how palate preferences have changed . . .
The Scherrer Cabernet Sauvignons are attractively loamy, soil-driven wines that emphasize earthy cassis flavors over any pre-determined style. For wine lovers seeking a sense of terroir or a sense of place in their wines, these are the kinds of wines you drink and then say to yourself, “rock on.” And, if you ever find yourself in the Graton area, and in need of a jam session partner, you might want to give Fred a holler.