About two months after my family moved into our new house, a guy knocked on the door saying he used to live here. He stood in the doorway as he regaled us with stories of the past and talked about how the neighborhood was mostly vegetation and how it's great to see families on the block. He didn't ask to come in. It was odd. I'm sure he had great memories of growing up in our one-story ranch, but that was generations ago. We renovated. Others replaced things. I guess people just like reliving the past.
Last week, I opened the front door of the three-story, corner Victorian at 447 Heights Blvd. I saw lounge chairs and tables, painted kitchen cabinets, and wine bottles stacked into shelves. I thought about how, just three-and-a-half months before, I hauled a whole bunch of boxes down the stairs to the first floor of this building, that this was where I once worked ... my home away from home. This was my old place. Man, it was odd.
The locally based wine producer Serca Wines opened its tasting venue at the former Houstonia offices on May 1. At the venue, which is meant for private tastings you can book in advance, co-owners Carolina and Sergio Weitzman gave the large and open chef's kitchen a paint job. There's a bar area, a brick pizza oven, a private tasting room with a fireplace, and a secret basement-style pad for members to enjoy a drink in quiet comfort. The second floor has office space, and the third floor is an open area meant for parties and conferences. From that level, visitors can head out to a rooftop terrace with seating for about 20. The building also has a wraparound lower-level porch for further seating.
It's the next step for a couple that has slowly been building a strong reputation in America for their Argentinian-rooted creations. Sergio was born in Argentina, though his family left the country with little money and clothes before the Falklands War in 1982. Carolina grew up in Nicaragua, and her family retreated to her father's investment property in Houston during the Contra War. Both settled in Houston, met, and raised two children. These days, he works in wealth management while she's an architect—her firm, NATEX, takes some office space on the second floor of the tasting venue.
In 2008, for their 20th wedding anniversary, the Weitzmans traveled to the Mendoza region of Argentina. Situated at the foot of the Andes Mountains, its dry climate and versatile soil make it an ideal grape-growing area. "It already has the perfect storm of terroir and climate for grapes to grow," says Sergio. There, they learned about a project where winemakers tend to the land and produce wine for their paying clients. After a few years of discussion, they decided to join the project, buying land in 2011. Serca, a combination of Sergio and Carolina's names—and the Polish word for "heart"—was born.
Serca mainly produces red wines, from Merlot to Cabernet Franc to Malbec, the ubiquitous Argentinian grape. For the first few years, their product was only meant for friends, but about four years ago, a bottle of their Gran Corte—a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot grapes—found its way into the hands of Benjamin Berg of Berg Hospitality Group.
"It's like 11 p.m. at night, and I get a text from an unknown number and it says, 'Hi, I'm having your Gran Corte. How do I get this in my restaurant?'" says Sergio. "I said, 'You're talking to the right guy.'"
That late-night text from Berg started Serca's relationship with restaurants across the city, including Bacaro Kitchen & Wine Bar, Le Colonial, and Fleming's Prime Steakhouse. With that end of the business going well, and with kids leaving home and time opening up, the Weitzmans felt the time was right to open a tasting room. They looked at Rice Village and the West Alabama area among other places, but once they saw the Houstonia house go onto the market (you're welcome), they immediately threw their hat into the ring.
The tasting room is open from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday–Saturday, but you must book in advance. Three tasting options are available: The $15 Discovery option showcases 2020 Malbec Bravo, 2020 Malbec Rosé, and Corte Blanc, the winery's only white offering; the $25 Reserva option includes 2018 Cabernet Franc, 2015 Malbec Reserva, and the 2015 Corte Blanc; and the $30 Connoisseur's option lets guests choose any four wines. Private events are reserved for groups of 10 or more and include hors d'oeuvres and a guided tasting.
And while the venue is meant to showcase Serca wine, the Weitzmans also want to look out for other winemakers like themselves.
"This became a way to showcase our wines—especially the boutique wines like ours that have a tough time presenting and getting considered by the big distributors. So it's for our wines to showcase, but there are also hundreds of other great wineries out there that have no way to get their wines into the market," says Sergio. "As our wine membership grows, we'll consider having other wines here and they'll be added to our wine club."
Consider me someone with unique expertise on the tasting room. It really is a nice place to enjoy a glass of Serca's nuanced, yet big-flavored wines. For example, the Malbec Reserva is made with super-premium Malbec grapes—mostly meaning they're harvested by hand—that were bottled unfiltered. The wine was aged for 19 months in French oak barrels. The result showcases the grape's intense fruit flavor with outstanding smoothness.
If you visit Serca, you might want to buy a bottle of Malbec Reserva and sip it on the rooftop terrace. The trees nearby give it some shade—it's great. Me? I might go into the corner of the third floor and sit where my desk once was. I'll need a minute. I guess I, too, need to relive the past.