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Scherrer Pinot Noir Rocks

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. In the photo below you can see Fred showing off one of his guitars to my two sons during a recent visit.

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.

I recently tasted through ten of Scherrer’s wines as well as several 2007 barrel samples. The 2007 Pinot Noirs were really impressive with admirable color, intense fruit and mild, ripe tannins. I also tasted a few wines at home which are reviewed in detail below. 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.

2003 Scherrer Winery Helfer Vineyard Chardonnay

45 cases, $35. The Helfer Vineyard is located in the Vine Hill area of the Russian River Valley. Originally a Pinot Noir vineyard, it has been grafted over to a selection of Chardonnay budwood that came from Kistler, the vineyard’s neighbor just across Vine Hill Road. The vineyard has densely planted vines that require hand cultivation and yield more concentrated fruit than by traditional California vine spacing. The wines from this vineyard need several years to reach their potential. Unfined an unfiltered. · This wine has really come together and is drinking beautifully. Tasty citrus, a little butter, a hint of oak, and a smooth and silky texture.

2005 Scherrer Winery Helfer Vineyard Chardonnay

140 cases, $36. · Plenty of acid grip now with notes of citrus, minerals and pears. Not even close to its best drinkability window.

2005 Scherrer Winery Vin Gris

350 cases, $14. A blend of Pinot Noir and Zinfandel fermented in neutral barrels. · Still hanging in there. Roseate, persimmon and vibrant acidity. Fairly plush mouth feel.

2005 Scherrer Winery Old Vine Zinfandel

890 cases, $30. Vinified more like Pinot Noir, essentially receiving the same winemaking treatment. The result is Zin for Pinot lovers. Plenty of acidity and not flabby or alcoholic. · Smooth and velvety, brimming with red and black fruits and a touch of pepper. The tannins are not in sight and you can almost drink this like beer.

2005 Scherrer Winery Bliss Vineyard Syrah

90 cases, $40. Last bottling as the vineyard was sold to Lynmar Winery. · An elegant Syrah brimming with dark red and blue fruit, grilled meat and a typical silky Pinot Noir mouth feel.

2006 Scherrer Winery Sonoma County Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $35. · Lightly colored. Nicely woven aromas of cherries, oak and brown spice. Tasty cherry core with a faint echo of earthiness and oak and a pristine freshness. Not a wimpy entry level Pinot, the wine has a decent mid palate richness. Perfectly fine for what it is and a wine that you can enjoy every night at the dinner table. My wife loved the cherry high notes and bought a case of half-bottles.

2006 Scherrers Winery “Big Brother” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 420 cases, $50. Named for its darker fruits and generosity. Blended from a vineyard in Annapolis and one in Bodega Bay. · Exotic and intoxicating aromas of wild berries and spice box. Lovely berry flavors with some earthy notes and a faint note of citrus peel lurking in the background. Plenty of fruit, yet stylish and nimble. Harmonious and flawless with supple tannins and decent persistence. No rush to drink this one.

2002 Scherrer Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 860 cases, $35. · Secondary bouquet of cigar box and good funk joined by dark cherries, red berries and spice. Mildly oaked black cherry and cola flavors with a healthy bolt of oak on the slightly astringent and dry finish. The wine has a nicely aged patina with gossamer tannins.

2002 Scherrer Winery Ft. Ross Vineyard ‘High Slopes’ Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 210 cases, $38. From some of the highest elevations in this coastal vineyard where the vines struggle. The wine tends to be tightly structured demanding the use of a high percentage of new barrels. An assemblage of the most harmonious barrels. Unfined, unfiltered. · Fabulous nose of black cherries and black currants with a touch of allspice. Still a big wine with earth-kissed berry and cassis flavors and noticeable dry tannins. I would recommend drinking this with hearty food.

I prefer the more recent releases of Scherrer Pinot Noir over the older ones, finding them more fruity and vibrant. The 2005 Scherrer Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is spectacular (previously reviewed) and a required buy for any serious lover of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

Scherrer Winery wines are sold through a mailing list with some retail distribution. Many wines are available in both half-bottle and magnum format. Sign up for the newsletter at Tasting is by appointment. Fred’s spouse, Judi, handles orders and general business questions at 707-823-8980. Fred is one of the few winemakers who responds to your email or phone inquiries promptly.

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