As the product of hippie parents who left the Bronx in the 1970s to be Isla Vista flower children, Zachary Wasserman, 27, ambitiously attended UC Berkeley after graduating from Santa Ynez High in 2005. “I thought I was going to cure cancer and save the world,” said the pre-med major. But the “grunt work” of working in a lab that tried turning algae into biofuel was pretty dull, so when his sister Almond called to say she was working for Joey Tensley and making her own barrel of wine, Zac was all ready to move home.
“I quit my job, came down, did one harvest with Joey, and never left,” said Wasserman, who started with Tensley in 2010, worked his way up to assistant winemaker, and started his own brand called Frequency in 2011. That began with one barrel of Tierra Alta Vineyard syrah and steadily expanded into more vineyards (Moorman, Colson Canyon, Camp 4) as well as a GSM blend. Though the grenache-syrah-mourvèdre blend is common, Wasserman is one of the only winemakers to co-ferment, a challenge because the three grapes often don’t come in at the same ripeness levels. “But they tend to balance each other out,” said Wasserman, whose 2013 GSM is already on the market.
The brand steadily grows, up to about 600 cases in 2014, and this past year, in addition to opening a tasting room in Los Alamos, Wasserman launched an “Artist Series,” partnering with Toro Y Moi’s Chaz Bundick, who he knew from Berkeley. Bundick designed the flashy bottle art and made a mixtape of songs to be listened to while sipping the wine, which comes from Verna’s Vineyard in Los Alamos. Wasserman would like to work with rap artists in the future, if possible, explaining, “Hip-hop and wine need to come together.”
Wasserman admits it is a challenge to develop his own style while working for a star like Tensley but wouldn’t have it any other way. “I don’t think there is another winemaker I’d want to work for in terms of intuitiveness and our rapport,” he explained. “He’s good at what he does, but everything is really subtle. He keeps the most calm head out of any winemaker I’ve met, especially during harvest when shit hits the fan.”