Today’s Winemaker in the Spotlight is Kimberlee Nicholls of Markham Vineyards Napa Valley. After graduating with a degree in biology Nicholls landed herself a position as a Laboratory Technician at Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in 1989. It was here that she began to expand her understanding beyond the chemistry of winemaking. With her attention to detail and strong analytical skills, position of Lab Director soon followed. John Gibson, former winemaker at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, saw Kimberlee’s adept tasting skills and encouraged her to “always trust in your palate.”
In 1993, Nicholls moved to Markham Vineyards as an enologist to establish an extensive laboratory program and become an integral part of the winemaking team. After four years of hands-on experience in the vineyards and in the winery, she was promoted to Associate Winemaker in 1997. Nicholls’ assiduous interest in all facets of the industry led to her appointment as Winemaker at Markham Vineyards in November, 2001. And trusting in the words of John Gibson long ago, her palate and tasting skills are acknowledged to be some of the finest in the industry. I present this week’s Winemaker in the Spotlight, Kimberlee Nicholls.
South Florida Food andWine.com: Tell us a bit about your position at Markham Vineyards and how you got started making wine.
Kimberlee Nicholls: From the time I could remember, I have been baking or cooking. My first job was working in a bakery, which I did throughout high school and college breaks for ten years. I applied to a blind advertisement and got a laboratory technician job at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars when I move to the area. Finding people in the wine industry were so obsessed with food really shocked me in the beginning, although it makes complete sense to me now. It was that job that showed me that cooking and winemaking are interlinked. It was those personal connections got my foot in the door at Markham twenty years ago!
South Florida Food andWine.com: Tell us about the different wines within the Markham portfolio and the Limited Production portfolio.
Kimberlee Nicholls: We have what we commonly call the ‘Big 4’ here at Markham; Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon comprise ~95% of the wines that we make at Markham Vineyards. We started a red blend last year known as “Cellar 1879” in homage to the original owner of our historic stone cellar. However, I also make 11 other wines that you will only find here at the winery just to stay busy J These are limited tasting room only wines like our Rosé, Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah and new Zinfandel (yet to be bottled) but also include our Estate Single Vineyard bottling’s of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and a new 2012 Muscato.
South Florida Food andWine.com: What is your most memorable wine moment to date?
Kimberlee Nicholls: When I tasted a highly sought after and scored Cabernet Sauvignon, I expected it to be a huge, monsterous wine full of oak. It was beautiful and seamless, definitely my ‘Aha!’ moment that layering texture in wine was more intoxicating to me as a winemaker.
South Florida Food andWine.com: What is the most challenging thing about being a winemaker?
Kimberlee Nicholls: Keeping all the balls in the air!
South Florida Food andWine.com: Which of your vintages to date are you most proud of?
Kimberlee Nicholls: I have a special fondness for the 2001 vintage as it was the year that I was promoted to winemaker here at Markham.
South Florida Food andWine.com: Who is the one person you would love to share a bottle of your wine with and why?
Kimberlee Nicholls: My grandmother who I remember being an amazing cook. When I taste a wine that reminds me of her or the smells I associate from her kitchen, I get really emotional!
South Florida Food andWine.com: It’s your last day on earth, what would your quaff and meal be?
Kimberlee Nicholls: Start the meal with Champagne and Foie Gras, move on to pan-roasted Duck breast & Chanterelles with cognac laced cherries with Merlot and finish with a bit of aged tawny Port and a decadent butterscotch pudding.
South Florida Food andWine.com: What was the last restaurant you ate at and did you order/bring your wine?
Kimberlee Nicholls: Hmm…I have difficulty going out as I tend to be such a food snob? If it isn’t better than what I make at home, then I am not happy! Luckily, I am pretty lucky here in Napa Valley and Cindy Pawlson’s cooking always makes me happy.
South Florida Food andWine.com: Other than your own wine, what is your quaff of choice?
Kimberlee Nicholls: Bubbles and Oregon Pinot Noir (I went to school in Oregon, where I met my husband and we have a special fondness)
Markham Vineyards 2812 St. Helena Hwy North • P.O. Box 636 • St. Helena, CA 94574
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