Most winemakers learn their craft through a combination of the new and the old-fashioned — by taking technical classes at a university, then dragging hoses and cleaning out barrels as apprentices under the eyes of experienced winemakers as they work their way up the ladder. Then comes that moment where they are in charge of creating the wines, either at large wineries or as owner and winemaker of their own brands.
We asked five impressive rookie winemakers to tell us in their own words about how they got their starts, their winemaking styles, obstacles, mentors, and the tastes of their first creations.
Melissa Stackhouse, VP winemaking, J Vineyards, Healdsburg, Calif.
“I discovered winemaking as a career in 1994. I was living in Bellingham, Wash., at the time, and was out wine tasting on Lopez Island. I just happened to ask the proprietors of this small winery how they got into winemaking and was told that they had gone to school to study the subject. For me, that was an ‘ah hah’ moment. I immediately researched where a person would go to study grape growing and winemaking, and discovered UC Davis. I enrolled in 1996 and graduated in 1998 with a BS degree in Viticulture & Enology.”
“I approach winemaking as a team effort — lots of collaboration between all involved in growing the grapes and making the wine. Our intent at J is to produce a wine with varietal integrity, balance, and concentration.”
“My mentor is Jeff Stewart, who is presently the winemaker at Hartford Family Wines. I apprenticed under him at La Crema from 2001 through 2003, and as far as mentors go, he’s the best.”
Catrina North, enologist, Galer Estate, Chadds Ford, Penn.
“I've come to realize that I do not see obstacles as others see them. I moved from California to Pennsylvania to make wine, which I've come to understand is what some would consider making your own obstacle! I feel my biggest obstacle is not having as much experience as I would like making wine in the East. But, I'm working on that.”
“I was pretty sure I was going to be a marine ecologist of some sort until I met a gentleman named Peter Bell, the winemaker at Fox Run. I discovered that his job was in fact the coolest intersection between artistry, science, agriculture, travel, and luck — and that I had to have a job just like it.”
“The final check in of the day always involves a taste after I've tested the brix and temperature, so I tasted the Pinot Grigio ferment. It tasted great! I had been used to tasting sugary sweet (but delicious) juice, but I realized this this was suddenly bright, aromatic, acidic, tangerine smelling-wine! Needless to say, that called for a second sip.”