Sherman Thacher

Sherman Thacher – Photo Credit: Libbie Agran


Sherman Thacher has a special affinity for preserving the unique ecosystem and wildlife corridor on his property located in the Adelaida region on Vineyard Drive in San Luis Obispo County. He has become a steward of his land that was once a part of the original Old Kentucky Ranch established in 1869, just west of the town of Paso Robles.

Sherman has studied the history of dairy farming, cattle, and horse ranching eras of the last 130 years. He is restoring the iconic barn, stables, and outbuildings. He has researched the orchards that were grown there over a century ago and has planted 20 varieties of heirloom apple trees. In the spring of 2021, he planted gardens of heirloom vegetables. He is the first to plant vineyards on the property and to establish a winery now known as Thacher Winery and Vineyards. He makes over 19 varietals and is using the amphorae to explore the ancient techniques of winemaking.

Impact on the Wine History of San Luis Obispo County

  • Restoration of the Old Kentucky Ranch – land and buildings, orchards, and gardens.
  • Use of Tuscan amphorae to produce handmade red and white Rhone varietals using ancient techniques.
  • Produces wines that present the subtleties and essence of the local terroir.
  • Planting lesser-known grape varieties with histories reaching back to the Greeks of 6,500 years ago and early California of the 18th century.
  • Planting unusual field blends of eleven grape varieties in his vineyards.
  • Starring Role in the award-winning documentary film, The Amphora Project – Past Forward – 8,000 Years of Winemaking in Clay Vessels, released by the Wine History Project in December 2022.
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Kentucky Ranch

The Story – Mastering the Brew and Making Wine

Sherman and Michelle Thacher attended a wedding reception at the old Kentucky Ranch almost 20 years ago. Michelle’s college roommate, engaged to a man from Atascadero, was married at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. After the ceremony, the guests traveled about 30 miles to the Adelaida district just west of Paso Robles for the wedding reception. It was held in the iconic Kentucky Ranch barn, almost 100 years old. As they pulled onto the ranch, Michele and Sherman immediately fell in love with the rural setting, nestled between rolling hills covered with oak trees, under blue skies, with birds flying and cattle grazing nearby.

During the evening they learned about the history of the ranch. It was originally owned by farmers who had traveled west to California in the 1860s to seek their fortunes. They soon recognized the grass and soil as similar to their home in Kentucky where horse breeding thrived because of the calcium-rich grasses that built strong bones and healthy racehorses. The men purchased the property and named it the Kentucky Ranch. Over the years, the original parcel was divided and sold to multiple owners but this piece of land was dedicated to horse ranching well into the 1960s. The then, current owners, Bruce and Sandy Ebelherr, described the old dairy creamery adjacent to the barn; the land had recently been used as grazing land for cattle.

Read our article on the Kentucky Ranch here: The Roots Run Deep on the Kentucky Ranch Home to Thacher Winery.

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Kentucky Ranch Flyover

Magazine Articles Showing the Shermans

Sherman and Michelle met while both working at a brewery in Los Gatos. Sherman had graduated from the University of California at Davis in the multi-disciplinary major of International Relations; gaining knowledge in political science, economics, sociology, ecology, and history. Like all graduates, he was assessing all his opportunities when a college friend, brewmaster Jeff Alexander, suggested that Sherman join him to work in a local brewery in Los Gatos in 1992. Sherman moved to Los Gatos, enjoyed the work, and ultimately became an award-winning brewmaster. However, he also learned the art and craft of making wine with Jeff in the Santa Cruz Mountains which would ultimately lead to a new career.

Jeff Alexander had also graduated from the University of California at Davis but his studies included enology and fermentation. Jeff had worked previously on the fall grape harvest in Santa Cruz Mountain vineyards and suggested that Sherman work the harvest with him in the fall of 1993. They were able to source two tons of old vine Zinfandel grapes from the well-known Congress Springs Vineyard which was originally planted in 1910. The vines were around 90 years old. Over time they had been able to self-regulate and created some very interesting fruit. They purchased one ton of this old vine Zinfandel. Their first vintage of Zinfandel produced two barrels. The second vintage produced three times as much. They had a couple of pallets of wine, enough to sell. They applied for a license that allowed them to have an Internet website and to sell wine at wholesale prices. They partnered in this venture for eight years, ending in 2001.
In 1995, Sherman and Jeff produced their third vintage and founded the Alexander label. They produced Zinfandel in the traditional style and also produced smaller vintages of Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. They sold their wines to local restaurants and created a website to market their Zinfandel. During this time Sherman was mentored by winemakers Tony Craig, Ken Foster, and his friend Jeff Alexander.

Michelle was also employed at the brewery. She and Sherman started dating and the relationship continued when Michelle left to complete her college degree at the University of California at Santa Barbara. They often met in Paso Robles for a romantic weekend and loved the area. During those adventures, they met Doug and Nancy Beckett, founders of Peachy Canyon Winery and famous for their Zinfandel Wines. The Becketts shared information about the Paso Robles area, the vineyards, and winemakers as well as offered a room to Sherman and Michelle to stay in at their winery.

Sherman and Michelle married in 1998. They continued to live in the Santa Cruz area. Michelle commuted to her job in the Silicon Valley and Sherman continued working at the brewery. However, as they started to plan their future, they decided to seek a more rural area and relaxed lifestyle to raise their family. That choice meant they had to find new careers. Sherman had grown up in the small town of Ojai, California in an orange grove. His great-great-grandparents were the co-founders of the famous Limoniera, one of California’s oldest citrus growers and today one of the largest growers of lemons and avocados in the United States. The company was founded in Santa Paula and is an agribusiness and real estate development company today. Both Michelle and Sherman felt a rural environment was where they wanted to raise a family. Paso Robles was their first choice.

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Kentucky Ranch Flyover

Barn and Horse Paddocks

Thacher Winery and Vineyards established on the Old Kentucky Ranch

Sherman and Michelle contacted a realtor around 2001 to start looking for properties in the Paso Robles area. The realtor sent them photos of many properties over the next few years. In 2003 pictures of the Old Kentucky Ranch were among them. They called their broker who advised them to come to Paso Robles immediately to see the property. They both left work to drive directly to Paso Robles. Sherman was wearing flip-flops and shorts and Michelle was in her work clothes. It was spring and the ranch was as beautiful as they remembered it. Sherman tells the story that the agent, a rancher, asked him if he was ready to manage a ranch like this in my flip-flops. Sherman answered yes and bravely followed the agent through the wild thistle bushes as they toured the property.

After a short discussion on a secluded park bench in downtown Paso Robles, Sherman and Michelle made the decision to move to Paso Robles; they presented their offer which was accepted, and opened escrow.

Sherman spent many months learning about the property before closing escrow in 2004. This property has a large riparian habitat for wildlife, barley fields, and old apple trees, with remnants of a 100-year-old orchard.

Sherman and Michelle Thacher purchased 52 acres with the iconic Bar KR barn, a house, storage buildings, paddocks, and fenced pastures from Bruce and Sandy Sandra Ebelherr. The Kentucky Ranch Property has a long history of agriculture, dairy farming, apple and walnut orchards, and horse ranching but no history of vineyards or winemaking.

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Photo Credit: Libbie Agran

Kentucky Ranch Flyover

Sherman Thacher and Daniel Callan outside tastingroom. – Photo Credit: Libbie Agran

Sherman studied the land and soils and planned for restoration of the buildings. The soil is thick dense heavy clay. The topography was relatively flat. The microclimate has a large swing in temperatures leading to summers of over 100 degrees and winters susceptible to early and late frosts. Sherman decided to plant limited amounts of grapevines in Zinfandel and Petite Sirah on the property and source the remainder of the grapes he needed from other vineyards. Sherman had no experience in viticulture so there was much to learn about planting and pruning. In Santa Cruz, Sherman had no vineyard and no winery. He was accustomed to sourcing grapes, renting space, producing wine, and selling it without being affiliated with a winery. He determined that his new property was better suited for a winery than for vineyards.

Sherman felt the location of the winery and tasting room should be adjacent to the large barn with its unusual shape and roofline which is the centerpiece of the ranch. The Thachers wanted to keep the setting as natural as possible and create a ranch-like feeling in the new architecture. The second architect they interviewed was very enthusiastic about the project and understood the concept proposed by Sherman. His name was Kim Hatch and he was employed by an architectural firm in San Luis Obispo, Pults and Associates. It took over a year to finalize the design. Plans were soon underway for building the winery. Sustainability was important in the design including the use of solar panels on the south-facing roofline for energy conservation that provides the electricity needed for the entire ranch. The tasting room was designed as a separate building surrounded by patios, shade trees, and comfortable outdoor seating.

“Thacher” was selected as the name for the Winery. The name reflects Sherman’s English heritage and reaches back to the era when Englishmen built quaint cottages and hired workers known as thachers to construct and maintain their roofs. The label and logo include the grasshopper based on the family crest which has three grasshoppers. The simple outline of the grasshopper has evolved since 2011 when Sherman worked with some new edgy renditions by a local artist for his label, Controlled Chaos, and for the Zinfandel labeled Triumvirate. A young art student who attends school with one of Sherman’s daughters designed two important new labels – one for Sherman’s son Cody who is on his third vintage and the other for Sherman’s first sparkling wine called Pet Nap, produced in 2019.

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Daniel Callan – Photo Credit: Libbie Agran

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Tasting Room.

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Grasshopper Logo.

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KentuckyRanchVineyard Map
The business model for the winery was designed to be a small family-owned and operated winery with a production of approximately 5,000 cases of authentic wines that represent the terroir of the local vineyards.

Initially, Sherman decided to plant Zinfandel which had been a popular grape in Paso Robles since the 1870s. He also wanted to plant Petite Sirah for blending purposes. Since he had specialized in Zinfandel winemaking for nine years, he planned to source the grapes from a variety of local vineyards and produce four or five Zinfandel varietals. His first two vintages were produced at the Savannah – Channell (formerly Congress Springs) Vineyard in Santa Cruz where he had produced his first vintages with Jeff Alexander.

As the Paso Rhone movement, led by Tablas Creek Winery, began to expand Sherman became interested in experimenting with new varieties. Sherman sourced from ten to twelve different vineyards. He appreciated the benefits, particularly the access to diversity. He became more focused on the varieties that particularly expressed the “sense of place” or terroir of the local region. The next two varietals that he produced were Mourvedre and Grenache.

In 2006, the family who had been commuting on the weekends moved on to their property in Paso Robles. The third and fourth vintages were produced at Templeton Wine Services in Templeton.

In 2007 the Estate vineyard of four acres was planted to Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. There are many open spaces so many trees and plants were selected for the ranch. The large fields were leased to a local farmer for dry farming hay and grazing cattle. Goats and chickens found a home near the old horse stables.

Sherman’s son, who is now 12 years old, the youngest of his three children, is interested in viticulture and winemaking. He has a vineyard block of his own with 80 wines that he cares for.

2007 was a pivotal year for the winery. Sherman began experimenting with Rhone varietals including Viognier, Grenache, and Mourvedre. To quote Sherman: “experimenting is always an important facet of making wine…the more you experiment, the more you learn about your environment and how things react.”

Sourcing the grapes was always part of the business plan. Finding your sources is usually done through word of mouth. You talk with other producers, or you try their wines and say, “this is amazing, where can I get this fruit?” Generally in Paso Robles, everyone is willing to help one another. That is one of the best things about living and working in Paso Robles. Every winemaker is trying to help each other make better wine. They encourage their customers to visit each other’s wineries.

In 2008 the fourth Harvest yielded over 33 tons of premium grapes. The winery, 4,600 square feet, was completed and opened to the public. All future vintages of Thacher wines have been made on site.

Awards and Recognition

In the 2011 San Francisco International Competition, Thacher wine won top awards as the Best Red for the 2008 Triumvirate Zinfandel.

In 2012 at the same competition, the Thacher 2009 GSM won Double Gold and the Thacher Controlled Chaos won Gold. Both wines were also entered in the Sunset International Competition. The 2009 GSM won Gold and the 2009 Controlled Chaos won a Silver medal.

The recognition continues for Sherman’s winemaking style. In 2020 the Wine Business Monthly named Thacher Winery a “Hot Brand”.

Wine Business’ Managing Editor Erin Kirschenmann writes; “In developing our list of Hot Brands, we are looking for wineries, winemakers, growers and others who are making some kind of statement within the industry. Thacher’s fresher wine is a welcome respite from some of the spicy, savory, heavy wines typically coming out of Paso. The award profiles Winemaker and Owner Sherman Thacher and Assistant Winemaker Daniel Callan. Together the duo has bolstered the winery’s mission to work with diverse varieties from some of the Central Coast’s more exclusive sites, using a minimalist approach to winemaking. Thacher is currently working with 19 different grape varieties from various vineyards including their two estate vineyards. …..The wines are exciting and intriguing, but most importantly well-made.”

The Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo featured Winemakers Sherman Thacher and Daniel Callan in the October 2021 Exhibit entitled: 6,000 Years of Winemaking in Clay Amphorae at the Paso Robles History Museum.

Building the Staff

In 2013 Sherman met Daniel Callan who was working in the wine shop in Virginia that carried Thacher Wines. The owner of the wine shop suggested that Sherman hire Daniel for an internship and soon Daniel was on his way to Paso Robles. Both men have similar interests in the history of winemaking and in experimenting the grape varieties. They began to experiment with a variety of winemaking methods and vessels producing Rhone blends and varietal wines. Shortly after Daniel started working at Thacher, he had the opportunity to work a harvest in South Africa. The winemaker in South Africa specialized in making natural wine in clay amphorae which he actually crafted and fired himself using local clay. Daniel was quite impressed with the quality of those wines and the ancient techniques honored in the process. He sent photos to Sherman and described his experience in great detail. Daniel returned to Thacher in 2015.

Tony Quelay was hired as the General Manager in 2018. Michelle continued to handle marketing and public relations. Anna Paredes was hired as tasting manager in 2020. She is working abroad and has been replaced by Drew Mulkern in 2021.

Grape varieties

Originally Sherman decided to plant Zinfandel which has been a popular grape in Paso Robles since the 1870s. He sourced Zinfandel grapes from a variety of vineyards and produced four or five Zinfandel varietals. Sourcing grapes was a way to explore the terroir in various vineyards and to form relationships with a variety of growers. The diversity of grapes and terroir were important benefits of sourcing the grapes and provided the opportunity for experimentation.

In the early days of the winery, Sherman was sourcing from ten to twelve vineyards. Soon Sherman realized that the Paso Rhone Movement was expanding; Tablas Creek was the lead grower and winemaker.

His focus is now on numerous grape varieties, some grown in the estate vineyards and others sourced in vineyards located in Santa Barbara County. San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties. He enjoys finding the varieties that really express themselves and the specific vineyards that focus on pushing forward the focus of what a varietal can be. For example, if a Mourvedre is going to smell like a barnyard and a bit stinky, we will find the grower whose grapes really express that. Each profile is identified and stands out in our blends.

Paso Robles has a huge growing region with many microclimates and soils. There are a range of temperatures from the cool coastal regions to the very warm dry climates east of Paso Robles near Creston and Shandon. There are many grapes to select from.

Sherman made the decision to establish a new vineyard in the Willow Creek region. Sherman and Daniel wanted to plant specific varieties and experiment with historic grapes such as Cinsault that had originally been planted in California vineyards over 150 years ago and with unusual field blends with over 11 varieties that had never been assembled before.

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Thacher Vineyard Block

In 2015 Sherman purchased the land known as Homestead Hill from Bruce Hardcastle. This land was farmed in the early 1900s by Sig Eimon. He grew almonds and later planted grapes. The area is known for the historic vineyards planted there over the last 100 years.

At the highest point in Sherman’s vineyards you can see portions of the Zinfandel vineyard once planted by the vineyard manager for the famous composer and pianist, Ignace Paderewski. The Zinfandel wine made from grapes sourced from this vineyard won first place in the California State Fair in 1934, the first year competitions were held after ending Prohibition. Sherman shared a black and white photo of Paderewski standing on Sherman’s property former owner Sig Eimon and his friend Melvin Moe. It is now archived at the Wine History Project.

In February 2017 the following blocks were planted on 15 acres on Homestead Hill:
Cabernet Sauvignon (2.69 acres)
Cinsault (1.46 acres)
Grenache (2.66 acres)
Heirloom Blend of 11 varieties (1.02 acres)
Mourvedre (0.32 acre)
Syrah (4.56 acres)
Carignane (1,04 acres)
Zinfandel (1.60 acres)

The heirloom blend consists of 9 red and 2 white grape varieties. Other varieties planted include Viognier, Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouchet and Counsoise. Zinfandel was removed in December 2020.

The southward-facing vineyard will be harvested in specific blocks which provides the opportunity to create more unusual blends. We can compare three specific winemaking styles using grapes harvested from the same blocks – using whole clusters versus destemming versus using an extended maceration with the wine on the skins for a longer period of time – to assess the impact of each. All three might be blended together a year later.

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Apple Blossoms on driveway with the Kentucky Ranch in the background. PHOTO COURTESY OF SHERMAN THACHER.
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Apple-Grape wine.
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Photo Credit: Libbie Agran

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Winemaking vessels.

The Apple Orchard – Producing Cider Rose and Sparkling Wines

The original granny smith apple orchard on the Old Kentucky Ranch dates back over 100 years. Sherman researched a variety of apples using the nursery owned by Neal Collins, Trees of Antiquity. He originally selected 16 heirloom varieties of apples and planted ten of each in 2009 along the road leading to the winery. They include Nehou, Golden Russet, Ashmead’s Kernel, Wickson, Grimes Golden, Black Twig, Pink Pearl, Smokehouse, Yarlington’s Mill, Kidd’s Orange Red, Belle de Boskoop, Suntan, Foxwelp, Baldwin, Hauer Pippin, Pink, Sparkle, Burford Red, Grannysmith, Fuji and Spitzenberg.

The blend of trees was a generic formula for apple cider. Sweet apples made up 60%, bittersweet apples 20% and bitter apples 20%. The last two categories of bittersweet and bitter added tannin and texture. The sweet apples added the sugar for fermentation and built out the body of the cider. The first cider was made in 2020.

Thacher Winery produced a Cider Rose which was unique with a label of the old Kentucky Barn surrounded by apple blossoms. Anne Laddon, local artist and founder of Studios on the Park in Paso Robles, designed and painted the label in 2020. Only 180 cases are produced.

According to the label on the bottle of Apple-Grape wine, the apples go through a grinding process after several weeks of sweating. The fruit is allowed to macerate for 24 hours before being basket pressed. The juice is roughly settled, racked, and combined with a small amount of red grapes grown on the ranch. The juice is then inoculated for a long, cool fermentation. The finished cider is bottled, unfiltered, and unfined during the winter months.

Winemaking Style:

Sherman makes the wines he enjoys drinking. He notes that as people age, their palates change and they often prefer wines that are lighter and carry a bit more fruit focus. He enjoys making wines with a variety of flavor profiles. It stimulates conversations and debate. These wines are fun, playful and express his winemaking style. They reflect the local grape varieties and the terroir of the Paso Robles region. He makes a lighter wine with lower alcohol than is traditionally enjoyed in Paso Robles. He produces blends and single varietal wines that are often described as bright and clean.

His style of winemaking is based on experimentation as the only way to learn. You lose ground as a winemaker if you don’t try new things. He is always learning, always experimenting.

During the last ten years, the wines are made with a minimum of manipulation. His style is focused on looking for the right amount of acidity, plenty of flavor and natural freshness. The grapes are picked earlier than usual which reduces the alcohol content and produces a fresher wine with a little more acidity. The Willow Creek area, where his Homestead Hill Vineyard is located, produces acidic grapes which are used as a component to bring down the ph.

The grapes ferment naturally. No yeast, enzymes or acids are added to the wines.

Sherman uses a variety of winemaking vessels including large format barrels (puncheons), clay amphorae from Tuscany, and concrete, all of which slow down the aging process. He has been changing the oak profile and trending toward fermenting and aging in neutral vessels. He was using neutral barrels, over four years old, for aging his wine. He is enhancing the aromatics and accentuating the fruit grown in the vineyard. These barrels still breathe just as a new oak barrel does, aging and oxidizing the wine at the perfect rate (micro-oxidation), but they do not impart any oak flavor. The neutral barrels and the clay amphorae are preserving the characteristics that you get in the fruit of each vineyard. It softens the tannins.

The idea of using clay amphorae was introduced by Assistant Winemaker, Daniel Callan while he was working in South Africa. Unbeknownst to Daniel, Sherman started his own research into using the amphora. He was referred to Manu Fiorentini, the founder of ITEK wines, who sells wine-making equipment of all types in his Paso Robles showroom. Manu had grown up in Italy and was familiar with the process of making clay vessels in Tuscany. He began importing clay amphorae from Tuscany. In 2015 Sherman ordered two 500 liter amphorae, one for red wines and one for white wines. These amphorae were delivered a few months after Daniel returned from his study abroad; he was totally surprised.

Daniel has encouraged experimentation with a variety of heirloom grapes including 2019 Chenin Blanc and Cinsault. They have produced over 20 varietals since acquiring the amphorae. The whites include Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Viognier. The reds include the list below and a Pinot Noir sourced from the Santa Rita Hills. He continues to research heirloom varieties grown throughout California and to experiment with both old and new winemaking techniques.

In the 2018 harvest, Sherman focused on 45 lots, each of which he kept separate. Most were kept in the barrel for 18 to 24 months before bottling.

Blends are made by combining various lots, Some examples include the Rhone Blends and Zinfandels:

2019 Own-Rooted Chenin
2020 Petillant Naturel
2020 Nouveau
2019 Cinsault
2017 Grenache
2018 Mourvedre
2016 Controlled Chaos
2017 Constant Variable
2019 Valdiguie
2019 Negrette
2017 Solo Concert
2016 Nebbiolo
2018 Triumvirate
2017 Normal Deviation
2017 Resident Alien

As mentioned earlier in this article, the experimentation with grape varieties, the combinations of vessels ranging from barrels to amphorae, to concrete, and winemaking styles are creating wines that are appealing to the next generation of wine drinkers and continuing the conversation about wines as they evolve in the twenty-first century.

Sherman’s Legend continues to evolve.

Timeline – Sherman and Michelle Thacher

1967: Sherman Thacher is born on July 9 in Los Angeles.

1985: Graduates from Midland School and enters UC Davis as a freshman.

1991: Graduates from University of California at Davis with Bachelor of Arts in International Relations.

1992: Sherman started working at a brewery in the San Jose area after graduating from college.

1993: Sherman and a fellow employee, Jeff Alexander (who had worked a couple of harvests) suggests that they make wine together. They purchase one ton of Zinfandel grapes from the Congress Springs Vineyard first planted in 1910 in the Santa Cruz Mountains. They make their first vintage at the Congress Springs Winery and share it with friends. He also rented space at Congress Springs Winery in 1993. (Note – This winery changed ownership several times becoming Mariani and currently Savannah – Channel.)

1994: Sherman continues to work at the brewery. At harvest time, Sherman and Jeff produce their second vintage of Zinfandel wine. Sherman learns winemaking through his personal experience. He is mentored by winemaker Tony Craig who worked at David Bruce.

1995: Sherman continues to work at the brewery. At harvest time, Sherman and his friend Jeff produce their third vintage. They produce enough wine to bottle and sell. They apply for a license and create the Alexander label. They sell to restaurants and develop a website. They produced Zinfandel in the traditional style and also produced smaller vintages of Petite Sirah and Pinot Noir.

1995: Michelle returns to college to complete her degree at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The romance between Sherman and Michelle continued. They spent weekends together and occasionally met in Paso Robles. During a weekend visit they established a relationship with Zinfandel producers Nancy and Doug Beckett, owners of Peachy Canyon Winery.

1998: Sherman and Michelle are married. They establish a home in Santa Cruz. Sherman continues working at the brewery and Michelle works in Silicon Valley.

2001: Sherman and Michelle start looking for land in Paso Robles to purchase; they decide to move to a community where their children can thrive.

2001: The last vintage of wine under the Alexander label is produced by Sherman and his partner Jeff.

2003: Sherman and Michelle attend the wedding reception of her college friend at the Old Kentucky Ranch in Paso Robles.

2003: Sherman and Michelle are contacted by a local real estate broker about the availability of a property that was once part of the Old Kentucky Ranch. This property has a large riparian habitat for wildlife, barley fields, and old apple trees, with remnants of a 100-year-old orchard.

2004: Sherman and Michelle Thacher purchase 52 acres with the iconic Bar KR barn, a house, storage buildings, outbuildings, and former horse stalls from Bruce and Sandy Ebelherr. Kentucky Ranch Property has a long history of agriculture and horse ranching but no history of vineyards or winemaking. The Thachers continue to live in Santa Cruz for the next two years while working on the property.

2004: Sherman studies the land and soils, and plans for the restoration of the buildings. He determined that the property is better suited for a winery than for vineyards. The soil is thick dense heavy clay. The topography was relatively flat. The microclimate has a large swing in temperatures leading to summer temperatures over 100 degrees and winters susceptible to early and late frosts. Sherman decides to plant limited amounts of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah on the tops of small hills on the property but will source most grapes from other local vineyards.

2004: Sherman begins planning for the winery and tasting room, working with a local architect who is enthusiastic about designing structures to complement the iconic Kentucky Barn. The name will be Thacher Winery and Vineyards.

2004: Wines from the first harvest are produced at Savannah – Channel in Santa Cruz. This is the former Congress Springs Vineyard originally planted in 1910 where Sherman Thacher and Jeff Alexander produced their wines in the early 1990s.

2005: Wines from the second harvest are produced at Savannah – Channel in Santa Cruz.

2006: The Thacher family moves to Paso Robles. Their wines are produced from the third harvest at Templeton Wine Services in Templeton, California.

2007: The Estate Vineyard of four acres is planted – Zinfandel grapes are the main variety with Petite Sirah planted for blending.

2007: Following the fourth harvest, their wines are produced at Templeton Wine Services in Templeton, California.

2008: The Tasting Room and Winery construction are completed. Solar power is installed. The Thacher Winery is bonded and opens to the public.

2008: Sherman has a harvest of 33 tons of premium grapes sourced from local vineyards. This is the first vintage produced at the new Thacher Winery.

2011: San Francisco International Wine Competition: 2008 Thacher Triumvirate Zinfandel wins award for the Best Red Wine.

2012: San Francisco International Wine Competition: 2009 Thacher GSM won Double Gold, 2009 Thacher Controlled Chaos won Gold

2012: Sunset International Wine Competition; 2009 Thacher GSM won Gold; 2009 Thacher Controlled Chaos won Silver

2013: Daniel Callan is hired as a Harvest Intern.

2014: Daniel Callan is promoted to Cellar Master.

2015: Daniel Callan travels to South Africa to work at Alheit Vineyards in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley to work for South Africa’s preeminent white wine producers. He gained experience in working with a wide array of fermentation and aging vessels including foudrem amphorae, concrete eggs and cubes, puncheons and barrique. He was also inspired to study the historic implications of wine and the origins of the heirloom grapes used today.

2015; Daniel Callan returned to work with Sherman in the fall harvest. Shortly after his arrival, Sherman surprised him with the arrival of two 500 liter amphorae, imported from Tuscany. The fermentation and aging process using amphorae began.

2015: The Homestead Hill property located in the Willow District on Kiler Road is purchased from Bruce Hardcastle. There are two houses on the property with a rich local history. One photo in the Wine History Project Archives shows Ignace Paderewski on the property in front of a tree that is still standing. The Willowcreek sub-AVA is well known for its microclimate and soils that have been home to historic vineyards for the last 100 years.

2016: Sherman designed but didn’t plant, until February 2017, the Homestead Hill Vineyard to be planted on 15 acres with multiple grape varieties including:
Cabernet Sauvignon (2.69 acres)
Cinsault (1.46 acres)
Grenache (2.66 acres)
Heirloom Blend of 11 varieties (1.02 acres)
Mourvedre (.32 acre)
Syrah (4.56 acres)
Carignane (1,04 acres)
Zinfandel (1.6 acres)

2017: Sherman Thacher and Daniel Callan plant less than an acre of Alicante Bouchet and a small block of Viognier in the Estate Property.

2018: Daniel Callan is promoted to Assistant Winemaker. Tony Quelay named General Manager of Thacher Winery

2019: Produced Pétillant Naturel/ Pet Nat Methode Ancestrale for the first time. The label is designed by a friend of his daughter.

2020: Thacher Winery River Cruise, France (from Lyon to Avignon was planned and canceled because of the Coronavirus Pandemic.

2020: Wine Business Monthly names Thacher Winery a ‘Hot Brand” of 2020, reported on February 12th, 2020 by Managing Editor, Erin Kirschenmann.

2020: Covid Pandemic declared in March.

2021: Winery reopens for tastings.

2021: Sherman Thacher and Daniel Callan are featured in the Exhibit “6,000 Years of Winemaking in Clay Amphorae” at the Paso Robles History Museum, opening October 16.

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Footnote: Early Family History

Sherman Thacher’s ancestors, William and his wife Mehetable Thacher, arrived in Watertown, Massachusetts in 1636. They settled in Dorchester where they farmed and raised their children, including their son Roger.

As an adult, Roger Sherman moved to New Mildford, Connecticut and although he had no formal education, he became a surveyor and studied law. He was admitted to the Bar in 1754. He was elected to the Connecticut Legislature and served in the house for 19 years. He was chosen as a delegate to both the First and the Second Continental Congress. As a member of the Second Continental Congress he was one of five members of the Committee to draft the Declaration of Independence.

He is one of only six members to have signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Roger Sherman served in the United States Congress in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

His granddaughter, Elizabeth Sherman married Thomas A. Thacher who became a Professor of Latin at Yale University. Two of Thomas A. Thacher’s sons, Sherman and Edward, eventually traveled west and settled in Ojai, California in the late 1880s. Edward became one of the major growers of citrus and the founder of the Ojai Olive Association in 1902. Sherman became an educator and founder of the Thacher School.

Sherman’s great-grandmother, Hannah Mary Willey (on his mother’s side of the family) married Samuel Edwards, born in England in 1837. Samuel emigrated to the United States in 1857 but returned to England many times to court Hannah. They were married in England in 1876 and settled in Santa Barbara, California. In 1881 Samuel bought farmland in Santa Paula. It was the last portion of the Rancho Santa Paula y Saticoy to be sold. Samuel Edwards founded his own company which merged with Limoneira in 1886.