If you don’t enter, you can’t win.
That’s what the team at Serra Vineyards thought when they entered five of their wines in the 2015 Seattle Wine and Food Experience Competition, sponsored by Seattle Magazine. Most of the entries came from Washington State and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Serra Vineyards was the only Southern Oregon winery to enter.
Serra Vineyards owners, Krissa and Scott Fernandes, along with former Troon marketer, Liz Wan, have a consulting firm, VinoVerse, to promote Southern Oregon wines and tourism. Last year, they attended the Seattle event simply to publicize this area, but they were confident their wines could hold their own with the best of the Northwest.
All five of the wines they entered earned medals. Even though their confidence turned out to be well founded, it still came as a shock when Serra Vineyards 2011 Pinot Noir received “Best of Class-Gold.”
The Serra Vineyards story really began in 1995 when Hawaii-born Frank F. Ferreira, Jr. moved to the Applegate Valley from Maui to “retire” and bought 75 acres. He planted 20 acres of wine-grape cuttings — syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc — on land known as the “Kubli bench” — on Missouri Flat Road. It is a south-facing site and one of the warmest spots in the Applegate Valley, allowing for consistent ripening of late-harvest fruit like cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.
Ferreira tended his vines alone. His crop was dry-farmed, which produced a deep root ball, small yields and intensely flavored fruit. He was a self-taught winemaker, though he made very little of it, selling most of his crop to other local winemakers such as Herb Quady, who won multiple awards with wines made from Ferreira’s syrah grapes.
Ferreira died suddenly of a heart attack at age 65 in the middle of the 2008 harvest. Friends completed the harvest of his crop and sold the fruit. His family, knowing nothing about grapes and wine, put the property up for sale.
In 2009, Krissa and Scott Fernandes visited the Applegate Valley from their home in Central California. They met Cal and Judy Schmidt of Schmidt Family Vineyards and Rex and Sandi Garoutte of Rosella Vineyards and Winery, the winery next door. Both Krissa and Scott come from commercial farming families, and they became intrigued with the idea of growing quality, small-lot estate fruit and making limited production “chateau method” wine.
Cal and Judy told them about the unique vineyard property for sale just up the road. The Fernandes’ bought it from the Ferreira family in 2010 and Serra Vineyards was born.
Krissa and Scott planted 10 additional acres and added malbec and tempranillo to Ferreira’s varietals. They hired Herb Quady’s Applegate Vineyard Management. Winemakers Kara Olmo and Greg Paneitz of Wooldridge Creek Winery fashioned Serra’s custom crush, producing that “Best of Class-Gold” 2011 Pinot Noir. Their 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon took a silver medal and their 2011 Syrah and 2012 “Serendipity” white blend both won bronze medals in Seattle.
In 2013, Serra Vineyards completed its own winemaking facility and tasting room, and Scott Fernandes became the winemaker. The first wine from the new facility, a 2013 Rosé (made from malbec and tempranillo), also took a bronze medal in Seattle.
Serra Vineyards produces approximately 1,000 cases of wine each year under its own label. The red wines are all estate grown, with the white wine grapes locally sourced. Serra continues to sell more than 80 percent of its grapes to other local wineries.
To experiment with barrel aging and blending, Fernandes uses 10 percent new oak and purchases used barrels made by a number of different manufacturers. The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is beautifully balanced and elegant after only a year in the barrel. The just-barreled 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon already exhibits great fruit and balance.
All of Serra Vineyards wine is bottle aged at least a year prior to release. Each wine is initially released to Serra’s 500-member wine club, subsequently introduced into the tasting room flight and, finally, distributed via Serra’s wholesaler, Summit Beverages of Medford.
Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.