November 4, 2014 – Ser Wine Company may not be the easiest brand name to understand, but if you speak Spanish you know ser essentially means “to be.” It also means “to possess an intrinsic quality, expressing identity or origin.” That seems to be winemaker Nicole Walsh’s credo, as she seeks to present the very being or soul of each wine she crafts.
Nicole, who just released the first wines under her own label, has been making wine at Bonny Doon Vineyard for the past 14 years and knows a thing or two about taking a contrarian view, as well as perseverance. She hails from Saginaw, Michigan, where she was one of two students in the Viticulture and Enology department at Michigan State University. Graduating with honors in 1998, she studied sustainable agriculture at EARTH University in Costa Rica, which enabled her to become proficient in both Spanish and farming.
After working four years in the Michigan wine industry on the Leelanau Peninsula, she married the love of her life, Kevin Walsh. They moved to Santa Cruz, where she began working for Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon in 2001. Nicole has held every position in wine production at the famed Doonship, including associate winemaker, vineyard manager and grower relations.
She took a brief timeout in 2008, when she moved with her husband and her son, Kai, to Marlborough, New Zealand. It was an instructive interlude that helped her focus on the kind of wine she knew she wanted to make, namely Pinot Noir.
When Nicole returned to Santa Cruz, she was tasked with overseeing the development of Grahm’s latest project, Popelouchum, a vineyard property in San Juan Bautista. And she’s still in charge of winemaking at the Bonny Doon winery facility in Santa Cruz. Of working with Grahm, Walsh says, “It’s always exciting, fresh and has been an amazing learning experience from day one. Never a dull moment!”
When Nicole decided to start her own wine brand, Ser, in 2012, she turned to local Santa Cruz Mountain growers to source fruit from the many distinct microclimates in the appellation. “I wanted to showcase locally grown varietals and capture their sense of place,” she says. “Having my own brand gives me a chance to focus on wines I don’t make for Bonny Doon, in particular, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.”
Her grower contacts throughout the state enabled her to acquire Chardonnay, Riesling, Syrah, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, and a very rare little number called Cabernet Pfeffer. Her quest is to express the essence of each grape, making each wine a snapshot of the place from whence it came. Taste and behold.
Wines Of Presence And Place
2012 Sparkling Wine, Wirz Vineyard, Cienega Valley, San Benito County, $36
This is a “lemonade” story wine: the Riesling grapes were a bit under ripe for still wine, so Nicole turned to Barry Jackson, local champagne king, to make a sparkling out of it. Yeasty, earthy aromas lead to flavors of Golden Delicious apples, lime, Asian pear and quince. This is really special stuff. Not bad for lemonade.
2013 Chardonnay Coastview Vineyard, Monterey County, $28
Nicole hadn’t much experience with Chardonnay (Randall Grahm is renowned to be an “ABC” guy), so she wasn’t quite sure how to approach the grape. This steep site, at 2,300 ft. in the Gabilan Mountain Range on the eastern side of the Salinas Valley, has granitic soils with veins of limestone. It yields wines of intense acid and minerality.
Nicole describes this neutral oak fermented wine as very much like white Burgundy, in the style of Pouilly Fuisse. Indigenous yeast and lees stirring give it a creamy texture, with aromas of guava and baked pear, and stone fruit flavors of apricot, along with baked apple and Bosc pear. Elegant and poised, like a ballerina en pointe.
Let’s have a round of applause: Nicole did good on her first try. Even if you think don’t like Chardonnay, you might fall in love with this one.
2012 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, $33
From three outstanding vineyards, Lester Family in Corralitos, Lilo Vineyard in Aptos and Byington Vineyard in the Summit area, this gently made wine reflects the warmth of the vintage, and the long, even growing season. Aromas of raspberry liqueur, strawberry jam and sandalwood are enticing, and the flavors are full-on strawberry rhubarb and cherry pie, with touches of orange peel and dark chocolate. A very satisfying Pinot with lovely acidity and velvety tannins, it saw only 10% new oak.
2012 Cabernet Pfeffer, Wirz Vineyard, Cienega Valley, San Benito County, $35
This little known and rarely grown grape comes from 90 year old head trained, dry farmed vines in hilly granite and limestone soils. Cabernet Pfeffer is actually a French grape called “Mourtaou,” of which there are fewer than 12 acres grown in California. “Pfeffer” means “pepper” in German, which aptly describes its intense pepper aromas and flavors.
You’ll find violets, tomato leaf and white pepper on the nose, and fabulous flavors of cranberry, pepper, flint and basil pesto on the palate. Lovely fine tannins make this a mouth-pleasing experience. If you want to impress your wine loving friends, this wine will do the trick.
Ser Wine Company has no tasting room, but these very limited production wines are available at New Leaf, Shopper’s Corner, Deluxe Foods, Soif and at Ruthe Roberts Vintners Collective in Saratoga. They can also be purchased online at serwinecompany.com
Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.