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For California’s Surfing Winemakers, It’s All About Balance

Nicole Walsh of Ser Winery / Photo by Ryan Struck

Whether it’s concern about our warming climate or a desire to produce fresher wines, California vintners are fascinated by growing grapes as close to the Pacific Ocean as possible for all kinds of reasons. With most vineyards located less than six miles from the shore, the recently approved San Luis Obispo Coast appellation emphasizes this quest. But there’s more to the story: Many of these Golden State winemakers are also dedicated surfers, practicing a sport that connects them to ocean and its power while reminding them to go with the flow. These are their lessons.

Nicole Walsh, Ser Winery AVA: Santa Cruz, Monterey & San Benito Counties

Surf spot: Manresa Beach

“There is a sense of always wanting more with both surf and wine. The insatiable quest to improve my surfing, have another experience in the water, to find out how the next session will be—it is similar. Nature is ultimately responsible for the creation of waves and wine, but how I can be a facilitator of transformation to realize the potential of both waves and wine is a lifelong addiction for me.”

Alice Anderson of Âmevive Wines / Photo Courtesy of Âmevive Wines

Alice Anderson, Âmevive Wines AVA: Los Olivos District

Surf spot: Cracks

“I like to say that I’ve been learning to surf for 10 years, because it’s always a new experience, much like each time you get fruit in the cellar at the beginning of harvest. Stay humble and remember what you’ve learned in years prior, but resist the temptation to be dogmatic about anything—always adapt and evolve.”

Aaron Jackson, founder of Aaron Wines & Aequorea Vineyards / Photo Courtesy of Aequorea Vineyards


Aaron Jackson, Aaron Wines & Aequorea Vineyards AVA: Slo Coast & Paso Robles

Surf spot: Cayucos reef breaks

“Surfing is all about dealing with the elements and working with what nature gives you. It’s never the same or static—ever. Every session is another opportunity to learn, improve and experience something new. Winemaking is exactly the same. You learn to work with nature, not against it, and every vintage is something new.”

Patrick Muran of Niner Wine Estates / Photo Courtesy of Niner Wine Estates

Patrick Muran, Niner Wine Estates AVA: Willow Creek District

Surf spot: Sewers

“The ocean has always been my grounding. It taught me balance, beauty and how to hold my breath.”

Cole Thomas of Madison Wines / Photo Courtesy of Madison Wines

Cole Thomas, Madson Wines AVA: Santa Cruz Mountains

Surf spot: Steamer Lane

“When the waves are good, you surf. When there are heat waves or an approaching storm, you harvest the grapes. The spontaneity that I’ve learned in surfing has helped me embrace the unexpected, impromptu harvests that you end up calling the night before.”

Eric Flanagan, owner of Flanagan Wines / Photo Courtesy of Flanagan Wines

Eric Flanagan, Flanagan Wines AVA: Sonoma Coast

Surf spot: Salmon Creek

“[Surfing] is an excellent excuse for spending more time in Sonoma Coast vineyards, especially Platt. I sell Platt Vineyard fruit to Philippe Melka and Julien Fayard—both of whom I’ve had a lot of great surf days with.”

Alison Thomson of Lepiane Cellar / Photo Courtesy of Lepiane Cellar

Alison Thomson, L.A. Lepiane Wines AVA: Santa Maria Valley & Alisos Canyon

Surf spot: Devereaux

“When I was learning to surf, I was one of the few women in the water, and when I was first coming up in the industry, I was one of the few women working in production. Surfing has given me confidence in my physical abilities to accomplish cellar work surrounded by mostly men. If it weren’t for surfing, I might not be where I am today.”

Oded Shakked of Longboar Vineyards / Photo Courtesy of Longboar Vineyards

Oded Shakked, Longboard Vineyards AVA: Russian River Valley

Surf spot: Mystos

“Control is an illusion. You have to forget about ego and try to feel what nature is sending your way.”


This article originally appeared in the June/July 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!