A Sip Wines "Winelight"
I was fortunate to try one of Nicole’s wines before actually speaking with her, so I already knew going into our conversation that whatever she was doing, it was working--that wine was AMAZING. It’s not like I was surprised at how good the wine was; I’ve tried wines from several of the Sip Wines winery partners so far, and they’ve all blown my mind in different ways. Now that I’ve had the chance to speak to a few of these extraordinary wine leaders, I think I understand better what makes their wines so special, but I’m not going to reveal it just yet. Instead, I’ll give you a comparison.
I’m not a noob when it comes to wine tasting. I’ve been to Napa, Sonoma, Russian River Valley, and some of New York’s top wineries, and I’ve tried a LOT of wine. For the most part, it was all great (some more than others). But when I tasted a bottle of Ser wine, it didn’t remind me of those experiences. Instead, it brought to mind a wine tour in Chianti that I took on my honeymoon, and specifically a tiny family vineyard that we visited out in the countryside. No clue what it was called, but O.M.G. That wine was special.
With that said, let me tell you about Nicole’s wine and philosophy, and I think you’ll see what makes it so unique.
Actually, you’ll realize that the name of her winery says it all. “Ser” is a Spanish word, meaning “expressing identity or origin; having the intrinsic quality of.” From Nicole’s website:
"I was inspired for the name after reading an article by Andrew Jefford, 'Wine and Astonishment'. It was in that writing that the notion of the 'Being' of wine truly resonated with me. Being is different than existing. It is true, wine exists; you can touch it, smell it, drink it. To quote Jefford, "Being, by contrast, is the 'isness' inside"; in other words, the natural essence of the grapes unique to each specific growing area. I am dedicated to preserving the isness of wine, to allow its true varietal expression and the place and time of its origins.” - Nicole Walsh
That right there is what sets apart Nicole’s wine, and the wine I tasted at the small farm in Chianti, from so many other wineries: it’s an understanding that grapes themselves have identities, and that a wine should be an expression of that identity. Rather than starting from an idea of what the wine--the end product--should be and then working backwards, they embrace the grapes themselves and let their qualities dictate what the wine will be.
This isn’t necessarily a new philosophy--in fact, I think it’s a truth that many of the small, old-world wineries have lived for centuries, although they may not articulate it as such. It’s an ethos passed down through generations. But how did someone like Nicole, who doesn’t come from an established wine family, reach this same level of, dare I say, winelightenment?
Nicole certainly has experience with wine, spending over 20 years working in every imaginable position at Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz, CA. Indeed, she credits most of what she knows to the breadth of roles she had there and her exposure to so many different varietals and techniques. But it was a surprise move to New Zealand that fundamentally altered her perspective.
In 2008, Nicole was invited to join Churton Wines in Marlborough, New Zealand, a region well-known for producing excellent wines. Churton, however, was doing things very differently from other NZ wineries. Working in a part of the region with different elevation and soils, Churton was cultivating different varieties than the rest of the region, and wanted to go further. Nicole was brought to help convert the vineyard to biodynamic production (a more holistic view of winemaking) and manage production, and for the next year she immersed herself in a new world of wine.
Ultimately, it was this experience that inspired Nicole’s philosophy of winemaking and led her to opening Ser Winery: She wanted to explore her own region and make wine that preserves and reflects the purest expression of the grapes, and the climates and soils that influence them. Nicole gives her wines the freedom to evolve as the grapes dictate, elevating their unique qualities instead of trying to conform them to a particular idea of what a wine should be. The end result is wine that is complex and confident in what it is, and you can taste the difference.
As for so many other winemakers, the pandemic has posed serious challenges to Nicole’s business. Although she has been making Ser wine since 2012, the rest of her dream had just come to fruition in January 2020, when she opened her tasting room. Nicole had a vision of her wine being more than just a business; she wanted to create a community, using her tasting room for events, social gatherings, educational seminars, and more. Even as pandemic shutdowns have shelved those dreams for now, she’s not letting go of her drive to build community.
That’s where Sip Wines comes in: Nicole sees in us a way to reach people virtually, even as we’re prevented from coming together in person. We share Nicole’s desire to build a wine community, which is why we’re so excited to work with her and other like-minded wineries.
Do yourself a favor and try some Ser wine. You won’t look at wine the same way again.