Monday, November 20, 2006

A Renaissance Man

Congratulations to Serge Laville for finding one of his beautiful wines on the Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines of the World list for 2006! Spring Valley's Uriah - 2003 from the Walla Walla Valley was given a place of 25 on the top 100 list.

A couple months ago we dined with Serge, his wife Madeleine and their adorable daughter Claire at the Laville home in Walla Walla, and he was generous with this outstanding Uriah. It is an elegant St-Emilion-style blend, mostly Merlot backed with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, harmonious with flavors of plum, chocolate and cherry, and a never-ending finish. When he originally reviewed the '03 Uriah for the Wine Spectator back in May, critic Harvey Steiman called the wine "supple, generous and beautifully structured to show off its currant, plum and blackberry flavors, gently supported by ultrarefined tannins to let the finish go on and on. " We agree!

But that night with Serge and his family was when I discovered that he is truly a Renaissance Man. Born and raised in France, Serge studied wine with Marie Laure Slyvestre for 10 years, then decided to visit the United States and become a wine tourist, toting just a knapsack and a camera. In 2000, his journey eventually brought him to Walla Walla and fortunately for us, he made Walla Walla his home.

The moment we walked through the Laville's front door we were on a journey of discovery ourselves, finding out about the many talents and skills of this gifted yet humble man. For starters, Serge is remodeling their charming 1940s style home, including some gorgeous tile and woodwork in the still-unfinished kitchen. But over the course of the evening we learned that winemaking and carpentry are just two among many crafts Serge has mastered.

From the first bite of the appetizers of foi gras on toast and asparagus with proscuitto served with Mumms Champagne to the last bite of the beautifully arranged dessert, we found out that he is an accomplished Chef as well. Indeed, Serge and Madeleine hosted us to a feast. Besides the wonderful appetizers we dined on perfectly prepared scallops, succulent beef and Roquefort-covered green beans. Later came individual fruit and cheese plates, and last but not least was a pyramid of chocolate mousse covered with a pink raspberry coating. Besides the food being heaven to the taste buds, the presentation on the plates were picture perfect -- very detailed.

Serge made sure ideally matched wine flowed through our meal. We tasted Christophe Baron's (Cayuse Vineyards) private-stock of Grenache Rose, Spring Valley's Marguaux-style Frederick blend (one of my favorites), Spring Valley's 100% Cabernet Sauvignon called Derby, a split of Forgeron Cellars Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, and of course the Uriah. Then Serge asked us to sample a split of Spring Valley Petit Verdot, and we all enjoyed a wine from Serge's childhood home, a bottle of Cotes du Rhone. The party extended well past the meal!

Not only is Serge a winemaker, chef and a artist-carpenter, he is a talented photographer, a hobbyist of remote-controlled autos and planes, and a conservationist. He recycles cooking grease (but only the finest grease -- from 26 Brix, in fact) into a clean smooth liquid source to power his diesel Mercedes.

As we were leaving the Laville home during the wee hours of the morning, Serge opened his refrigerator door to show us balls of pizza dough he had made earlier. He tossed me a ball of dough to take home and Madeleine gave me a bundle of fresh basil from their herb garden.

The next evening we were going to the home of Gilles Nicault of Long Shadows and Marie-Eve Gilla of Forgeron Cellars and I remembered I had the pizza dough and fresh basil in my fridge. Spur of the moment, I turned it into a pissaladière (French pizza ) with Fontina cheese, carmelized onions, black olives and lots of fresh basil. If I do say so myself, the toppings were perfect but it was the crust that gets the credit.

Again, congratulations to Serge and Spring Valley for the honor of making the Wine Spectator's list of the best 100 wines in the world for 2006. Thousands of wines are made across the globe, but only the best of the best of the best make the Top 100. Serge, who has been head winemaker at Spring Valley for just three years, has a long future ahead of him in the wine industry -- if he wants it. He's got so many other talents, he could make all kinds of Top 100 lists!


Anonymous said...

Serge is indeed a talented winemaker, however, not to mention Mary and Devin Derby as the key winemaking team for the 2003 Uriah, is a definite miss. Serge will have his own day of glory in this industry, but today this honor needs to belong to Devin and Mary.

wild walla walla wine woman said...

Yes, you are right.

My original draft of "Renaissance Man" did not mention this current news about the Uriah. This was a last minute addition.

Anonymous said...

where did the derbys learn french style of winemaking? the wines are reminiscent of great bordeaux. did they study in france?

Anonymous said...

Both Devin & Mary came to Walla Walla and winemaking after careers in other areas. However, Mary honed her palate working with chefs and sommeliers (correct me here, in Chicago I believe.) The influence of French winemakers is prevalent in this valley with the influx of great talent, such as winemakers at Cayuse, Forgeron, Long Shadows & now Canoe Ridge. Catie's friend Steve wrote a piece on this for the Economist earlier in the year. Devin, Mary & Serge were part of a very collaborative community of up-and-going winemakers until Devin's untimely death in 2004.

Gene Stein, Ph.D. said...

Hi Catie, I really enjoyed this piece. Sounds like you had a fabulous dinner with Serge. Wish I was there:). I met Serge recently at Taste Walla Walla in Seattle and really enjoyed talking with him. The 2003 Uriah got Best of Show from the Seattle Wine Blog at Taste Walla Walla - great wine. BTW, I somehow think of Jean Francois Pellet as French even though he is Swiss, probably because he speaks French. Gene -Seatle Wine Blog

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