“Artist travels to California for two-month wine job, falls in love with a winemaker, never moves back to east coast.” Thus began the story of Schermeister Winery, a husband-and-wife – plus beloved family dog, Eli – winemaking adventure.
In 2012, Rob had been making wine for the likes of Mark Aubert and Jayson Pahlmeyer when he took a chance and made 125 cases of his own Napa Valley Pinot Noir employing native yeast fermentation, which has since become his signature style.
In fall of 2013, graphic designer Laura Erickson, a California native living in North Carolina, took her own calculated risk. She quit her job, sold her home, and moved to California for a two-month cellar job at Olivia Brion Winery in Napa Valley. After harvest, she remained in California and took on some design clients to see her through until she returned to North Carolina. However, as fate would have it, Rob Schermeister contacted her regarding his brand’s website design. “I’ll take one last job, then go back to North Carolina to figure out the rest of my life,” said Laura. They first met at Starbucks to discuss the project. The second meeting, Rob brought Laura a bottle of that 2012 Pinot Noir. It was the best Pinot she had ever tasted. They spent six hours together – and the rest is history. Rob and Laura were married on Mount Veeder in July 2017.
Rob and Laura have built from scratch one of the smallest, but most exciting wineries, from the first 125 cases of Napa Valley Pinot Noir to the 1000 cases they make today. Tucked away in the historic Jack London Village in Glen Ellen, California, the couple, along with Eli, personally host tastings of their current releases.
The most compelling aspect about Schermeister is that Rob and Laura have launched a small-production winery in one of the most competitive wine regions in the world, with a business model that affords them the luxury of opening their tasting room only a few months per year until their current wines sell out, then they close until they have wine to sell to their club members – plus the few customers who are lucky enough to secure a few bottles without a membership.
During these special months at their tasting room in the historic Jack London Village in Glen Ellen, California, Rob, Laura, and Eli host wine club members and new visitors. “Guests, members, and friends can feel our excitement and passion when we talk about our wines, which means that we are bringing happiness to every experience. It is an honor to share this with others, turning tasters into true believers of something great,” they shared. “We enjoy personally guiding them through our tastings, opening their palates to quality wines. We thrive on these discovery/ah-ha moments.”
The primary reason for their success is the quality of the wines. Both are involved firsthand throughout the year, checking on the vineyards, working harvest, and managing their wines in the cellar. Their limited tasting room schedule allows for this. Rob and Laura ensure no wine is released before it is ready. Rob is particular about every detail of his winemaking process, including clone-specific fruit selection from premium, sustainable farms. He makes the wines unfiltered and unfined – without racking – fermenting and aging them in specially selected oak barrels of varying age to achieve optimal complexity.
The current releases at the time of publication include the 2020 Salomon Vineyard Viognier (Sonoma Valley), 2020 Antica Vineyard Laura’s Chardonnay from Atlas Peak (Napa Valley), 2020 Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Rita Hills), and 2019 Wagner Vineyard Scavenger Syrah (Sonoma Valley). Laura designs all the labels, and each wine has a story. The Chardonnay is named after Laura because they harvested the inaugural vintage on her birthday. Every vintage of the Scavenger Syrah features a different animal on the label, with the 2019 having a coyote, reminiscent of the those that kept the Schermeisters awake at night in their Mount Veeder cabin. Also, 20% of the Syrah’s profits benefit Dogwood Animal Rescue Project.
By the time one reads this story, Schermeister will likely be sold out and tasting room will be closed until early November, when 2022 harvest is over and the next wines are ready for release. Seventy percent of their production is already allocated to their wine club members, so what remains will be first come, first served, and will quickly sell. For those interested in joining the club for the fall 2022 releases, online signup is available through May 2022.
From the beginning, the Schermeisters have taken risks and defied the odds. “What we have done goes against what everyone else is doing,” they said. “Yet here we are – stronger than ever – despite the pandemic, wildfires, and life’s other curveballs. We would not have it any other way.”
Elizabeth Smith is an award-winning writer by way of a detour through the Napa Valley and Sonoma County wine industries. Her day job is product and winemaker copywriter at Naked Wines USA. Elizabeth is the Communications Chair for Les Dames d’Escoffier International Sacramento Chapter. She is also a member of the Circle of Wine Writers and the Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association. Connect with Elizabeth at easmith.net/contact.
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