For some people wine is just another beverage. For others it is an expression of life, something some might describe as art in a bottle. Malcolm Nicholls has taken it one step further by putting art ON – as well as in- the bottle. His eponymous Santa Barbara wine label, Nicholls Wine, creates fine wine as a platform for showcasing emerging contemporary artists. Each varietal and vintage release features new work by an exciting young artist. IntoWine recently caught up with Malcolm Nicholls to discuss the vision and goals for Nicholls Wine.
How did your foray into winemaking come about?
I learned about Crushpad from a local friend and fellow wine lover who is on their board of directors. I was intrigued by the concept; it represented an opportunity to learn more about wine and an excuse to visit California more often. Crushpad provides all the infrastructure and expertise necessary for quality winemaking, while allowing me a free hand in the decision-making process, branding, and promotion.
Describe your winemaking philosophy:
My focus has been on making the best single varietal, single vineyard wines we can. Sourcing the best fruit is paramount and I try not to get in the way of it. I feel very lucky to have had access to some of the best growers in Santa Barbara County and Napa.
Nicholls Wine creates fine wine as a platform for showcasing emerging contemporary artists. What is the inspiration behind this? What is the thought process behind choosing a particular artist or piece to feature on the label?
My wife and I collect contemporary art. Releasing wines that feature artwork by our favorite artists is a fun way to combine two of our favorites things. We’re certainly not the first wine brand to do this, but we’re the only one to be doing it with the artists we love. My hope is that it helps to foster a synergistic exchange between art collectors and wine lovers. All the artwork on the bottles is from our personal collection. I choose artwork that I feel is strong in and of itself, but that also works well on the reduced scale of the bottle.
What are your long-term goals for the brand?
To continue to exist, which is a pretty lofty goal in today’s economy. Otherwise, I am content to remain small.
Why the focus on Syrah, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon?
My first wines, a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay, were made in 2004. I started with those varietals because they require less time from harvest to bottle than the other wines I was considering making. I am a huge fan of Syrah and also enjoy a good Cabernet, so I always knew I wanted to expand in that direction. From a business standpoint, the profit margins for red wines are better, so as much as it would be nice to continue offering some white varietals, it just doesn’t make sense at the scale I operate at.
When it comes to winemaking, what's one thing you know now that you wish you had known before you started?
My only real regret so far was the decision to not filter my ’04 and ’05 Chardonnays. Educating the average consumer that there was nothing wrong with an unfiltered wine (and that some people actually prefer it) proved to be too much.
A hot topic in wine circles is the "Parkerization" of wines. Some people claim his 100-point scoring system has been an enabling factor for consumers as they navigate the endless array of brands from which they can choose. Others claim his influence has negatively impacted wine quality as producers are increasingly crafting their wines to earn a high score from Parker at the expense of making the best wine they can with the fruit and resources they have available. Given this, what are your thoughts on Parker and the 100 point scoring system?
I received the bulk of my wine education from a renegade wine shop owner I worked for in my early twenties. He was militantly anti-Parker. Because of his indoctrination, I share most of his views regarding the 100 point system. It’s disheartening to see how many customers are solely motivated by a score or a review, even when they are offered the opportunity to taste for themselves. I’d be hard pressed to discern between an “89” and a “92”, and yet that’s the difference between a wine that sits around in the warehouse and a wine that sells out quickly. It’s a herd mentality and either the average consumer does not trust their own palate or they are more interested in purchasing a vetted wine that will impress their friends. We can all talk objectively about what makes a good wine and there is value to reaching a consensus, but - ultimately - drinking a particular wine is a subjective experience. What pleases you may not be what pleases me, and that’s ok. It’s unfortunate to have so much of the wine industry kowtowing to the whims of one palate.
Lastly, where can your wines be purchased?
The wines are available online at www.nichollswine.com.