Each vintage in the Fisher double magnum series is etched and hand-painted with a Fisher Body Co. ad from the 1920s or a Fisher-GM ad from the 1930s.

Bottled by Fisher

By Ruth Coughlin, Special to The Detroit News

To any wine connoisseur worth his weight in grapes, the following catalogue description would seem to be sent straight from Nirvana: "Lot 302 is a one-of-a-kind imperial of 1985 Fisher Coach Insignia Cabernet displaying a 1930 LaSalle Landau Cabriolet ringed with emblems of each of the car divisions of General Motors as shown in the original 1930 advertisement for Fisher Body. Unforgettable wines; priceless treasures."

Fisher Body and General Motors linked with a fine cabernet?


Just as (if we are to believe the song) love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, Fisher Vineyards and Fisher Body are inextricably linked because of the man who made it all happen: Fred J. Fisher II.

Grandson of the founder of Fisher Body Corp., it was Fisher who decided two decades ago that because he liked wine and because he liked mountains he would go out and do something about it.

And so a vineyard was born.

Finding himself 1,200 feet above sea level in California's Mayacamas Mountains in 1973, Fisher knew he'd found the perfect spot. High above the Napa and Sonoma valleys, he and his wife, Juelle, carved out 22 acres of rugged mountain to build a winery; it was constructed entirely of Douglas fir and redwood, lumbered and milled on their own mountain.

Today, Fisher Vineyards produces 8,500 cases a year and is one of the most respected vineyards in the United States.

Now the local boy who made good -- very good, indeed -- is returning home to serve as honorary chair of the Detroit International Wine Auction on Saturday night.

A charity event to benefit the Center for Creative Studies, the black-tie gala is already a success with record sales of 450 tickets.

That the auction is sponsored by General Motors and that Fred Fisher is its chair seems only fitting.

"It's one of the most outstanding auctions in our industry," says Fisher, 62, reached by telephone in California on the eve of returning to his hometown.

"The funds that are raised are extraordinary. My part is small, but I takegreat pride in playing a role in it because I truly believe the students at the Center for Creative Studies have enormous potential and that their contribution to the city of Detroit is significant."

In fact, in its 13-year history the Detroit International Wine Auction has brought in $1.6 million to support the education of young artists, designers, musicians and dancers, a fact that Fisher finds heartening. This year, Sotheby's auctioneer Stephen Mould will take the bidding.

Mould, who once sold a historic magnum of Chateau Lafite 1870 for $17,250, says he is impressed by the lots up for bid at the Detroit auction, particularly the Fisher Verticals and the '45 Chateau Lafite Rothschild.

Fisher, who was a great booster of the city, left Grosse Pointe for California in 1961 and says he still misses Detroit.

"Coming out to California was a major step for me to take," Fisher says. "Where you grow up is what you know and love, and there are wonderful, great people in Detroit."

He mentions a good friend of his, a surgeon in California, who visited Detroit in the mid-'80s, expecting gloom and doom. Instead, the good doctor reported to Fisher that he was enchanted by the people of Detroit and their "can-do" attitude.

Fisher, who returns to the heartland several times a year and whose mother continues to live in Grosse Pointe, says his decision to go west was "strictly a matter of wanting to do something on my own."

"I don't think of myself as a rebel in any way," Fisher says. "It was simply that I felt the need to establish something separate. And I really enjoy being a small business because there is such a strong personal identification with the end product."

Fisher, a graduate of Princeton with an MBA from Harvard, was part of the manufacturing staff at Cadillac in 1959 and 1960.

His first move was to San Francisco, where he worked for a small cargo container company, which ultimately merged with Transamerica. And then what he calls his "wanderlust" and his desire to create something of his own brought him to that mountain top in northern California.

"You know, it was, and is, much more than a romantic idea," Fisher says, referring to what most people assume is the glamorous notion of starting your own vineyard. "There's a lot of work involved in our industry," he goes on, noting that he employs three full-time people, in addition to his wife and himself, and six seasonal workers.

"My object has always been not to be the biggest, but to make some of the best," says Fisher, who claims that his palate is about as average as most of the population's.

Fisher Vineyards' first vintage was produced in 1979, but it wasn't until 1984 that he and Juelle, whom he married in 1975, decided to put the familiar Napoleonic coach, the Fisher Body insignia, on the vineyards' chardonnay and cabernet labels.

Fisher Vineyards' first vintage was produced in 1979, but it wasn't until 1984 that he and Juelle, whom he married in 1975, decided to put the familiar Napoleonic coach, the Fisher Body insignia, on the vineyards' chardonnay and cabernet labels.

"I had confidence and pride in those wines, and I felt they wouldbe honored by the insignia," he says, his voice sounding very much like that of a proud papa.

The father of three children -- Robert, 19; Whitney, 17; and Cameron, 13 -- Fisher has named two of his wines in their honor. There's the RCF Vineyard Merlot, in honor of Robert, and the Whitney's Vineyard Chardonnay.

"Cameron keeps asking us, where is my vineyard, where is my vineyard?" Fisher reports with a laugh. "All I can tell her is to be patient. She's waiting. We're waiting."

Judging from Fisher Vineyards' booming success and Fred Fisher's enormous body of experience and knowledge, the wait probably won't be long.

-The Detroit News-
October 16, 1995

Fisher Vineyards / 6200 St. Helena Rd. / Santa Rosa, CA 95404 / 707-539-7511

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