Italian transplant a perfect fit for Oak Farm Vineyards
Oak Farm Vineyards assistant winemaker Sierra Zeiter spent a portion of this year in New Zealand working the harvest for Sauvignon blanc mega-producer Kim Crawford Wines.
One of the first friends she made just happened to be her figurative doppelganger, Marilia Nimis. They were strangers in a strange and beautiful land — Zeiter from Morada and Nimis from FriuliVenezia Giulia, a northeast region of Italy bordering Austria, Slovenia and the Adriatic Sea. Zeiter probably saw a lot of herself in the 23-yearold Nimis, in that, she had a great work ethic and an intense passion for winemaking.
Zeiter, who joined Oak Farm about three years ago out of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, was looking to hire an intern to help make her life a little easier back home. She believed her new friend would be a perfect fit.
“I remember the first day, Marilia and I just looked at each other and we looked similar,” said Zeiter, a 24-year-old graduate of St. Mary’s High School, Stockton. “We felt like we knew each other already.”
Zeiter exchanged direct messages with her boss,
“It was the best decision I ever made in my life.”
Oak Farm’s owner and assistant winemaker Dan Panella, and just like that, Nimis was on a jet bound for San Francisco to work the harvest as an intern. On the weekend she arrived in early August, Nimis poured for Oak Farm at the 29th annual Family Winemakers of California Tasting in San Francisco.
“I started here with this harvest and I fell in love with this place,” Nimis (pronounced Neemees) said. “Oak Farm is my second family now.”
In Italy, Nimis worked on her family’s 13-acre vineyard planted to white varieties Pinot Grigio and Glera, which is used to make Prosecco. While in college, she worked harvests for a few producers, including Ferrari Trento, which specializes in traditional method sparkling wine.
After graduating last December, she decided to travel the world and learn more about winemaking in different regions. That’s how she ended up in New Zealand working with about 40 other interns from around the world, including Zeiter.
Like Zeiter, Nimis brings energy and unique perspective to Oak Farm’s winemaking team, which also includes Chad Joseph.
Like Zeiter, Nimis doesn’t shy away from any chore no matter how dirty and humbling, such as pulling hoses, steaming barrels and cleaning tanks. Like Zeiter, Nimis is anxious to learn as much as she can to be the best winemaker she can. And like Zeiter, Nimis quickly proved to be capable of handling more responsibilities.
“She’s a real go-getter and after a couple weeks I was like, ‘How are we going to keep her?’ because she worked really hard,” said Panella, “and she reminded me of Sierra.”
Panella offered Nimis a full-time position as an assistant winemaker. After giving it some thought, knowing she would be far away from her family for a long time, Nimis accepted the offer, in part, because she wanted a more hands-on winemaking opportunity than she would have at a large winery, where duties usually don’t overlap. At Oak Farm, Nimis is involved in all phases of the process, which she greatly enjoys.
“It was the best decision I ever made in my life,” she said.
Nimis is excited working with varieties that are not familiar to her. Oak Farm crafts wines from Italian varieties, such as Fiano from Campania, Sangiovese (Tuscany) and Barbera (Piedmont), but none that hail from Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
“I’m happy here because I’m learning how to make different types of wines,” Nimis said.
“We don’t have Zinfandel and we don’t have Albarino and other varieties. It’s just really important for me to understand the different wines and the different laws and regulations here.”
Nimis said she plans to remain at Oak Farm for several years and might eventually take her knowledge back to Italy and start her own winery.
“I hope Marilia continues to expand her potential,” Joseph said. “It’s just like what Sierra has done here. It’s this really great energy that Sierra has brought to Oak Farm and now that Marilia brings to Oak Farm. It’s going to be exciting to see where Marilia is in a year.”