It is always refreshing when you see new Texas wineries open, and they bring along with their expertise in the wine industry. Serrano Wine, owned by Brice and Sarah Garrett, is one such winery. They had a winery in Paso Robles and brought the operation to the Texas Hill Country. Sarah Garrett is the winemaker, and we are proud to introduce everyone to Sarah Garrett as this month’s winemaker profile!
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
I was in college. My first full-time job was as a cellar rat in a custom crush facility. It didn’t take long in that role when I realized I wanted to build my own brand and started working on Serrano.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
To me, the toughest challenge of being a Texas winemaker is reacting to the weather, for sure. Each year grape growers are facing extreme unknowns: early freeze, late freeze, wind, hail, humidity, too much rain, too little rain, etc. As a winemaker, I trust my farmers to present me with a good crop, but then I am tasked with making a beautiful, balanced wine, and it is more challenging when the growing conditions aren’t ideal. I am always optimistic about finding a way. After all, wine has been made for thousands of years, most likely in conditions worse than we’ve been facing recently, so there’s always a way. It is a large challenge, but one I am excited to take on each year.
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
I believe winemaking is a mixture of both science and art, but certainly, the end result is a piece of art. There are millions of choices in making a wine, and it is within these choices that each wine can show individual character. I see wine as a captured moment of time. Someone had to make the decisions, and there are a lot of decisions. When to water the vines, how much foliage to keep, when to pick, and how to pick? And then, whether or not to cold soak the grapes, what nutrients and yeast to add, what type of barrel to age in, how much is the barrel toasted? Or would concrete be better, or stainless tanks, or amphora? How long to rest in vessel, and when is the best time to bottle, and what type of bottle? And more what should the label look like, and how long to hold the bottles before selling? There are so many decisions, and so many stories within those decisions. The science is clearly visible, but the direction and desires of winemaking are more poetic and artful at the core, then we use science to achieve our vision of the wine. I have always believed every bottle of wine contains a piece of the winemaker’s soul, and that soul is made up from every decision made in making that wine.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
As a whole, I normally don’t try to pair food and wine. My goal as a winemaker is to craft a product that tastes great on its own. But my guilty pleasure is popcorn and sparkling wine. Champagne, Crémant, Prosecco, Pét-Nat, you name it. Popcorn goes down better with bubbly!
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
To be honest, as I was growing up, I never would have dreamed I would be a winemaker. I like organization and numbers and finance, and if this passion wasn’t discovered, I think I would be a CPA.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
I was pulled into wine inadvertently in college through my now-husband, Brice. At that point in my life, I was planning on going into corporate banking in Atlanta after college, and I was all about strategy, so I was thinking, “What can I put on my resume that would set me apart from all the other college grads looking to go into the financial analyst career?” Well, my mom lived in Paso Robles, California, and I thought the wine business was super unique, and something that no one else would have on their resume. Brice on the other hand just wanted to experience a new industry. We both worked in Paso that summer. Brice was in the cellar, and I was in the tasting room (which is ironic since now I love the cellar and Brice is the pro in the tasting room). When we went back for our senior year, Brice spent the next eight months trying to convince me that moving to California and learning to make wine wouldn’t ruin my life. Winemaking was so far out of my comfort zone. I rejected the idea until about a month before we graduated when he told me we could always leave if it sucked. Well, it’s eight years later, and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else!
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
I think what I get asked the most is which wine is my favorite. And almost every time, I respond that it is like having to pick a favorite child! Though in reality, my favorite grape variety is Petit Verdot. I love a well-made, hearty Petit Verdot and I never turn down an opportunity to enjoy one. I have only made PV from Paso Robles, but I’m searching for some Texas Petit Verdot, and I’m eager for the opportunity to make one here!
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
When I get home, I like to sit on my front porch and hang out with my husband, Brice, and our dogs. We usually share a bottle of wine, go through emails, talk about the day, and decompress. This is also the time we “dream” – we talk about our goals for Serrano, our current and upcoming projects, and the priorities for the next day. Then we go inside and turn on Supernatural or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia while Brice makes dinner for us.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
Freedom! As a winemaker, I can pretty much make whatever I want. There are some self-imposed or industry-imposed limitations of course – what grapes do we have access to, what will sell, what grows best in the region we’re buying from, what fits into our vision for our program, what blends well together? In reality, I can choose to make whatever I want, blend whatever I want, age it in whatever vessel I want. There are so many options, and no right or wrong answer really! On a personal level, I also have freedom as entrepreneur within the winemaking realm. I own my own business, I can make my own hours, I can market and sell wine in whatever way fits my goals for the brand. It is a dream to not have to answer to anyone but myself and my husband who is truly my partner in life and in business.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
When Brice and I started Serrano, we were 22 years old, and we hadn’t quite found our place in the industry. Wine has a perception of exclusivity and snobbery, and it can be very off-putting for new wine drinkers. We were very aware of that as we built Serrano, and we set out to break down that barrier between good wine and enjoying it however you choose. We have worked to create a brand that is approachable and comfortable, but steadfast and resilient. In the same way, I want to make wines that are soft, smooth, and easy to drink, without sacrificing big body, alcohol, or complexity. As a whole, my mission is to make the best wine I can, based on my palate. From there, the job is to present my style to a consumer and help them have a positive experience. For me, wine is all about the enjoyment of that moment, and sharing a piece of happiness. I want to share my wines, share why I love my wines, and why I made my wines in this way. If my passion for what I do is evident, and my wine can bring happiness to others, then my goal is accomplished.
- Anything else you would like to add?
For those who do not know, I am relatively new to Texas winemaking. I made wine in Paso Robles, California for 7 harvests before moving to the Texas Hill Country. I was fortunate enough to work with some Texas grapes before fully moving, but I never understood the uniqueness of this state until I got here. After completing a few vintages now, I can see just how making wine here will help me continue to grow as a winemaker. Texas is not for the weak! I love the people and culture here, but I really love the added challenges winemaking in Texas brings. It is exciting to know that I can continue to grow here. Iron sharpens iron, and tough conditions make great winemakers!