Winemaker Fred Schrader Talks Cult Cabs

By Roberto Viernes, Master Sommelier | Photography By Greg Gorman

IN THE AUTOMOTIVE WORLD, ASTON MARTIN is elite symbol of luxury, style and performance. Zero to 60 in a blink, blinding speed, gorgeous styling and the deep roar of the engine arouse the senses. They are exotic supercars that are the envy of any car aficionado or speed demon. We covet them, lust for them and marvel at them. In the wine world, the “Cult Cabernet” is the supercar. World-class flavor, sleek structure, powerful and intense-every wine lover wants one. And few do it as well as Fred Schrader of Schrader Cellars.

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If you are not familiar with Schrader Cellars, you are not alone. It is one of a handful of Napa Valley Cabernet producers that make the crème de la crème that California has to offer in minute quantities to a growing horde of thirsty wine lovers and collectors. Schrader wines are only available from the winery through its mailing list if you are lucky enough to secure a spot on it. Or, you can bid on the small quantities that show up now and again at fine wine auctions.

But it is not rarity alone that builds the reputation of a Cult Cabernetmaker such as Schrader; it is the uncompromising commitment to quality that is the true source of its fame. And that comes directly from Fred Schrader. “Paying attention to every detail” is how he describes it. It may be cliché, but with Schrader there are “no compromises.” “Quality is first. We have a no-holds-barred attitude and philosophy. We do whatever it takes to make a great wine. If there is any compromise, you go off-course.”

And that course for Schrader is to achieve balance-it’s priority No.1, he attests. Despite the gargantuan fruit-forward nature of their Cabernets, they always strive for balance. “We make wine that is delicious in the front and mid-palate, and all the way through to the finish.” Schrader describes it as “nothing but Napa Cabernet,” not trying to mimic any other style of Bordeaux or Australia. A marvelous example is the 2005 Schrader RBS Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is unbelievably opulent, rich and deep with black fruit nuances and vanilla melded together. It seems to expand on the palate, exploding on the finish like a DB9 on a race course.

But every race course has a beginning, and for Schrader it all starts in the vineyard. The source for their Cabernet is the hallowed To Kalon vineyard. It was first farmed in 1868 by H. W. Crabb, who owned 348 acres in the valley. With an astute eye, he planted vines in this same parcel from which Schrader now gets his fruit. By Schrader’s account, the vineyard itself is nothing special to look at-unlike a beautiful Tuscan or steep Mosel vineyard. But if it rains overnight like crazy, it’s dry before the next morning. Schrader attributes it to the phenomenal location and drainage of the parcel. This fruit source provides his winemaker Thomas Brown only the ripest and healthiest grapes.

In the winery, Schrader’s philosophy of uncompromising quality continues. Only the finest French oak barrels from master cooper Darnajoux are used. And if the wine isn’t good enough, it never gets labeled with the Schrader name on it. At the same time, Schrader describes their process as “naturalist” preferring to “let the wine make itsel” over the “Magic Chef ” approach that some wineries have. Each lot is vinified separately-according to clone and parcel of To Kalon vineyard-which leads to the six different bottlings available. When pressed to choose one, Schrader replies: “That’s easy. CCS is the best,” listing the one named after his wife’s initials.

Like Schrader’s stable of vintage and supercars, which includes an Aston Martin, there are no slow pokes in the Schrader Cellars line-up. Every single one is an experience in richness and hedonism. If you find yourself fortunate enough to snag one of these beauties, sit back and enjoy the ride and taste the break-neck power and richness of these killer Cult Cabs.