Early Bird Ends
January 31, 2023
April 28, 2023
May 22, 2023
I first became interested in wine while I was studying abroad in Spain. I was old enough to drink there, and I started buying inexpensive red wines to try with meals. They were so different and interesting! Several years later I was introduced to someone working at a wine distribution company, and after hours of answering my wine questions, I was invited to interview. My start in the industry was with a distributor. However, over time I became more interested in the process rather than selling and distributing. I moved to California a few years later to learn about winemaking and never looked back.
I currently make wines for Plata Wine Partners, a B-to-B wine company that is part of Nuveen Natural Capital. We make over 30 wine brands sold in retailers across the country. We own our own vineyards, but we don't have a winery or tasting room -- we make our wines at 12 different facilities around California. My days vary quite a bit, but outside of harvest we spend much of our time tasting and creating blends from the wine we have stored all over the state. My office is mostly shelving stocked with samples from all of the tanks that we use to taste and blend. During harvest, I am driving around our vineyards to make picking decisions and to our facilities to monitor fermentations -- this takes me from Alexander Valley in Northern Sonoma all the way to Santa Barbara county in the south, and many stops in between!
I simply fell in love with wine. I was a science major in college but was looking for something a bit more creative and personal. Making wine requires quite a bit of scientific knowledge, like understanding how yeast work and the chemistry of wine quality and stability. But you can put your own personal stamp on it, your skills change as you gain experience and get to know your vineyards, and the final product is something you have a close connection to. That gives me great satisfaction.
That answer is different for every wine brand. Understanding your brand, its identity, and your customers are key to understanding how you can help drive revenue outside of making a great product. If you are making an ultra-luxury wine for a fifth-generation Earl and know nothing about the history of English aristocracy, for example, you better start learning, because you'll be talking to a lot of consumers within the owner's circle. I've hosted wine dinners where I got the crowd cheering because I knew our brand attracted lots of hockey fans and I started talking about the local hockey team; then everyone was having a great time and in the mood to buy a bunch of wine.
One who understands their true consumer and strives to make something they fully enjoy.
Harvest is really challenging for most winemakers, both mentally and emotionally. Perfect growing seasons are few and far between, so we are always looking at the weather, judging the humidity, wondering if that incoming heat wave or rainstorm or wildfire will hit us or be as bad or worse than expected. Also, barely seeing your family for weeks to months is very difficult. But it is also exciting and thrilling to start another vintage of wine and get the first peek at the style and quality as the wines are fermenting.
I have a young family which keeps me pretty busy, and we do a lot of cooking (and eating!) together. We like to travel where the kids can swim in the ocean. I also love to hike alone or with friends.
It's very tough to be in wine production and have a family, and there is little support in the industry -- it's mostly just assumed you will rely on family or expensive extended caregivers, if you can find them. It's not a particularly well-paid industry, especially for all of our support staff working in the cellars and vineyards, and family issues become a big strain for workers especially during harvest. Add onto that the lack of affordable housing, especially in the wine growing areas of California, and it makes it hard both to stay in the industry and attract the talented people we need to help us craft our wines.
Sustainability in the wine business is becoming a huge issue. Incoming ESG regulations are looming both in Europe and the US and will soon affect how we all do business. I'm trying to get ahead of what changes we need and want to incorporate as our business grows.
I feel pretty damn lucky. I work in an industry that I genuinely enjoy. I tuck my kids into bed every night with a stable roof over their heads and access to clean running water. We have enough to travel a bit and spend time with friends and family. We are luckier than most. I don't think I could expect more than that.
Image: Wine and War
When I was first learning about wine I used Jancis Robinson's Oxford Companion to Wine and Karen McNeill's The Wine Bible. Wine and War: the French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure is a great read for history as well as wine buffs.