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