Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

October 6, 2004:

Thirty years ago, Fred Fisher ’54 left the business world to open a vineyard. (Dourtesy Fisher Vineyards)

Fine wines
Fred Fisher ’54 finds his passion in growing grapes

Fred Fisher ’54 doesn’t remember his first glass of wine, but he remembers the one that changed his life.

It was 1957. He was on leave from the Army in northern Italy, having lunch with a friend by a lake. They shared a bottle of wine, then another. “That’s when I realized, sitting under those palm trees and drinking wine — that was the living end,” says Fisher, whose grandfather started the auto manufacturing company Fisher Auto Body, which was later acquired by General Motors.

That taste planted the seeds of a dream that would be 16 years in the making. After a series of jobs starting on the assembly floor of a General Motors plant in Detroit, followed by positions in aviation engineering, management consulting, and freight shipping, in 1973 Fisher walked away from conventional business endeavors to grow his own grapes — and combine his passion for wines with his work.

“I wanted a product I made myself,” says Fisher, who majored in engineering.

With “zero” knowledge at the outset, but the help of other vintners willing to share their secrets, Fisher bought 100 acres of hilly woodlands in Santa Rosa, Calif., and began terracing the steep slopes, installing irrigation systems, and planting grape fields. Today, Fisher’s hillside home overlooks a field of grapevines, arranged in neat rows that trace the contours of a picturesque valley at the heart of California’s wine country.

Each year, Fisher Vineyards produces 60,000 bottles of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and blends. The vineyard’s issues are consistently rated “very good” or “outstanding,” a notch below the highest rank, by Wine Spectator Magazine, and sell for between $32 and $125 a bottle.

Most days, Fisher is up at dawn making the rounds — checking on irrigation equipment and timers, and supervising the vineyard’s 18 employees, including his daughter Whitney Fisher ’99, who directs the wine-making from grape flower to the final blend.

Fisher’s classmates savored his flagship wine, the Coach Insignia Cabernet, at their 50th reunion in May. They might not have known it, however: The labels were hidden beneath Princeton stickers on the bottles.

By Justin Nyberg ’01

Justin Nyberg ’01 is a reporter in San Francisco.