From $31.99, CA$49.95
Purple Pager and San Francisco-based barrel broker Mel Knox has been muttering Scherrer at me for years whenever the conversation turns to old-vine Zinfandel or Sonoma. Last Monday night I finally got to taste a bottle of this particular wine with Zuni Café’s inimitable roast chicken and warm bread salad, shared with Nick and with John Wood, founder of Room to Read.
It was no disappointment and showed just how fine a wine this grape variety (known as Tribidrag in its Croatian homeland – see Wine Grapes) can be when the vines are old and there is a sensitive hand on the winemaking tiller. The Zins that don’t appeal to me are jammy, sweet and marked by a strong crude hot berry character.
Scherrer Old and Mature Vines Zinfandel 2012 Alexander Valley was subtle, bone dry, lip-smacking and communicative with a strong dried-red-cherry flavour and carries its 14.5% alcohol effortlessly. It is the produce of the vineyard shown below just off Highway 128 in Alexander Valley planted back in 1912 and has been owned by the Scherrer family for three generations. The current generation, Fred, has been making wine from it since 1991 but the vineyard is still farmed my his 88-year-old father pictured with him above right.
Here’s what Fred has to say about this wine, the current vintage:‘Over the past couple of decades, I have been monitoring the development of our Old and Mature Vine Zinfandel. What I see again and again is that the slightly leaner, skinnier vintages are usually the ones that go best with food and go on to age and develop most gracefully: 1992, 1994, 2001, 2005 are all good examples of this. I just shared a bottle of the 1991 (our first vintage) with a colleague. Its freshness blew his mind and made me smile. Experiences like this have been guiding me to lean a tiny bit more on the earlier side of my preferred harvest window. [My dad has been lobbying for this all along, by the way.] What I am seeing from this modest restraint is nice freshness of fruit flavours (more of the red raspberry and cherry notes) without too much syrupy, jammy character that could overshadow the fruit nuances. We want to showcase a nice balance of the varietal elements that are special to Zinfandel. Sometimes, the acidity/tannin angular side of the wine appears prominent when the wines are only a few months old. But things come into focus with time, especially during the last half of barrel ageing. Those of you who come to the barrel tastings each year have seen this for yourselves.
‘I’m still only talking about an ever so slight shift based on retrospection. The wines are still in the mid–14% alcohol range, which is where our Zinfandels seem to want to exist. There is red, black, and blue fruit, fresh loam, nuances of roasted grains, mouthwatering acidity and good flavour persistence. 2012 is a really nice vintage and in reasonably good supply — for now. 890 cases produced.’
I have never met Fred Scherrer but I like his words. Here’s how he describes how he came to wine:
‘In the mid 1970s, due to a normal teenage interest in alcoholic beverages, my family allowed me to make some wine from the family vineyard and beer at home (under adult supervision, of course). This led to a UC Davis degree as well as concurrent work at a local winery doing the dirtiest and most menial jobs imaginable. In the mid 1980s good friends at Duxoup Wine Works (think Marx Brothers for the pronunciation) inspired me to try my hand at my own label so I negotiated cellar space in lieu of a raise by my then-employer Greenwood Ridge Vineyards in Anderson Valley (I got a raise anyway). Greenwood Ridge was supportive of my project and decided to have some Scherrer Zinfandel produced for their label as well. Unfortunately, I had a poor business plan and during the first year I realised I was not yet ready for this project. Greenwood Ridge continues to make a small amount of Scherrer Vineyard Zinfandel to this day.
‘Enter Dehlinger Winery in the late 1980s. Tom Dehlinger was very supportive of my long-term plans and challenged me to develop a solid business plan, facilitating an important entry into my own project. In return, his winery received my heart and soul for a decade. The final key element in our getting started was from my parents. They allowed me to delay paying them for their fine grapes until we began getting cash flow from our wine sales. By 1997, we were ready to make the move to a facility of our own. In anticipation of this, we were able to add Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay to supplement the Zinfandel we were producing, all from my father’s vineyard in Alexander Valley. Tom Dehlinger supported this transition of my focus, allowing me to produce these additional wines in his facility and we parted very amicably after that vintage.
‘And so after the harvest of 1997, I moved our operation to a corner of an apple-packing shed-turned-winery, finally leasing the entire building. During this period, our production grew from just the three varietals from Scherrer Vineyard, to now typically a dozen wines, about half of which are Pinot Noir. Total production is now 4,000 to 5,000 cases. My good friend Don Bliss helped me whenever I needed a hand (or a finger to dial 911 in the unlikely event of a forklift mistake) throughout this period until he sold his fine vineyard and moved back to his native Texas in 2006. Since then, I have been able to impose on a handful of friends and local customers when I have needed help, but continue to work at the winery pretty much alone most of the year. Judi, my wife, has handled administrative and compliance for the winery since 2002, keeping me out of trouble with bureaucrats and making sure we are able to conform with the complex and changing world of direct shipping and wholesaling laws, reports and fees.’
As you can tell, this is a very small mom and pop operation so it is not surprising that this wine is not widely exported. According to wine-searcher.com, the only retailer outside the US is in Alberta, Canada. Very sorry about that. Americans, meanwhile, can track down a likely stockist via this link to all Scherrer’s US distributors.
Fred's wife Judi Scherrer directed me to this useful interview with Fred by the Nopalize team. See also this series of videos of him talking about winemaking. He sounds like a sensible guy.