Slideshow: Ask A Winemaker: How Did You Get Your Start?

Got Laid Off
Got Laid Off
"I was laid off in early 2009 and I had been serious about wine (reading, studying, blogging) for about 10 years. I always said that when I retired, I would "get into the wine business." I had zero clue what that meant. Freshly laid off, living in Atlanta, I just said I would make it happen. A few months later, with the support of a lot of great people, I won the online-wine equivalent of American Idol and I was living in Healdsburg, CA doing social media for a large winery. A few months into the gig, I realized I didn't want to be in the wine business, I wanted to be in wine—the touch it, smell it, taste it, get covered in it part. In early 2010, I started working for one of my favorite winemakers, Kevin Kelley, at The Natural Process Alliance. That changed everything."Hardy Wallace, Dirty and Rowdy Family Winery, California
Beautiful Beaujolais Vineyards
Beautiful Beaujolais Vineyards
"In the beginning it was really the vineyards themselves that attracted me, and more specifically, those of Marcel Lapierre. It was around the age of 15 (the moped years) when one day my eye was drawn to his magnificent vines bordering the road where I was riding. They were freshly plowed, and the overturned soil made them look so beautiful, and it was at that moment that I knew this profession was made for me. Now that I was hooked, I immediately decided to enroll in a viticulture-oenology high school, and from there I pursued a professional baccalaureate for two years alternating between classes, and an internship with Marcel Lapierre, so it was really he who taught me so much about what would become my career. Marcel passed down his love of wine from the very beginning."—Charly Thévenet, Beaujolais, France
It Came to Me While Skiing
It Came to Me While Skiing

I was doing a postdoc at UC Berkeley...I had a PhD in Marine Biology with a specialty in plant microorganisms (anything related to plants has been a life-long love affair) and somehow managed to secure a 3 year fellowship with Al Bassham and Melvin Calvin (they won the Nobel Prize for elucidating the chemical pathway of photosynthesis). It was a dream job since I got to spend my days coming up with experiments relating to plant biochemistry. But part way into the position, I was forced to start applying for more permanent positions elsewhere. When I came to the Bay Area it was like coming home and I didn't want to leave. So I devised a brilliant plan...take a map and color in the areas where I wanted to live and only apply for positions within those areas. When I finished shading the map I was basically left with a narrow band that went down the West Coast from BC to Point Arguello (near Santa Barbara). It turned out that there weren't many jobs being advertised for a marine biologist or plant biochemist in my preferred area (read "none"!). I was somewhat in despair over the prospects so I took my dog and went ski touring and snow camping by myself up near Tahoe...It was always a good way to clear my head.

While gliding down a slope, backpack with a bottle of wine (probably procured at Kermit Lynch who was a relatively new wine merchant in Berkeley) and dog loping behind, it just came to me: "Perfect! Wine and viticulture! I get to work with plants, I get to work with microorganisms, and my shaded areas basically encompass the viticulture region of the US." I made my first wine in my best friend's garage in North Oakland from fruit grown in Lake County by a friend from my marine biology days who had migrated up that way.

So I did what any heady young man would do: I drove up to Robert Mondavi Winery and got an audience with their winemaker at the time, Zelma Long. Her advice surprised me (keep in mind that this was 1978): she said, "go to Oregon young man, go to Oregon; that's where it's going to be happening." So I went to Oregon for a vintage but, though it obviously had potential, it was still a bit in the Dark Ages as far as enology was concerned. So I came back to California and eventually succeeded in convincing the people at Carneros Creek Winery in Napa to hire me as an assistant winemaker. The Napa Valley was a cauldron of fresh ideas, enthusiastic young people, knowledgeable older people willing to share what they knew and even a small influx of young winemakers from Burgundy whose fathers had sent them there to learn some cutting edge winemaking techniques. As is often the case, I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. And from that point on I have never looked back!"—John Paul, Cameron Winery, Oregon

[Photo: Jeremy Fenske]

Always Wanted In
Always Wanted In
"Since I was 4 years old, I ran behind my father in the vines and the cellars; I wanted to be a vinegrower. I think it is that we call a vocation!!"—Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy, Champagne, France
Making Barrels
Making Barrels
"My career before starting Arnot-Roberts was as a cooper, working for my father. Part of my job was to evaluate the barrels we made by tasting wine made in them, which was great exposure to Californian wine, as well as wines made in our barrels that we exported to Bordeaux. On top of the winery visits and tastings I was doing in California, I usually included visits to wineries while in France helping with purchasing wood or managing our stave drying yard in Cognac. Over time, exploring different wines from different regions became an obsession. My mother was a chef, so I think growing up with both parents who were very focused on their craft gave me inspiration to turn my interest in wine into producing wine."Nathan Roberts, Arnot-Roberts, California
Grew Up In Wine
Grew Up In Wine
"I was 10 years old when my parents founded Paumanok in 1983. Over time I realized that coming back to the family winery was a real career option for me. When I was a junior in college at University of Pennsylvania, I told my parents that I wanted to work for them when I graduated. At the time they still weren't sure that the business would offer me better prospects than the "real world". So I spent two years in a career position in finance in New York before returning to Paumanok full-time in 1998. I already had been working at the winery on weekends and vacations so when I started full-time I felt like I had retired 40 years early. If you love what you do, it's not work—you're just doing what you love to do."Kareem Massoud, Paumanok Vineyards, New York
Trading Abalone for Wine
Trading Abalone for Wine
"Actually, I got into the wine business because of abalone. When I was an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz, my friends and I dove for abalone and I was approached by Bob Roudon, a winemaker and owner of Roudon-Smith Winery, who wanted to trade wine for abalone. Eventually, he asked me to help bottle wines, and then help around the winery. At that time he also hired a UC Davis grad to be his assistant winemaker, and she helped convince me to go to school at UC Davis. I got a ,asters there, then worked at Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Cloudy Bay winery, Far Niente, Schramsburg, and then as assistant winemaker at Ridge Vineyards for nine years before starting Dashe Cellars, 16 years ago. I've always loved wine--just didn't know you could go to school for it. When I found out that I could get a degree in it, I was hooked! My family was very enthusiastic about my becoming a winemaker—my father in particular couldn't wait to taste what I came up with!"—Michael Dashe, Dashe Cellars, California
Three Weeks in New Zealand
Three Weeks in New Zealand
"In 2000, I was pruning a vineyard on Waiheke Island off the coast of Auckland, New Zealand. The work appealed to me in so many ways. Making wine gave me the ability to work in the natural world and translate an expression of time and place through the grapes from which we work with. It was those three weeks on Waiheke that changed the direction of my career. I started Ceritas in 2005 after meeting my wife, Phoebe Porter-Bass (Porter-Bass Vineyards)—we bottled Chardonnay from her namesake vineyard. Today, we have nine different bottlings from Anderson Valley, the “true” Sonoma Coast, and Santa Cruz Mountains."—John Raytek, Ceritas Wines, California
Heard Of A Place Called Washington...
Heard Of A Place Called Washington...
"After graduating from college I landed in the corporate world, entertaining business guests at nice restaurants. These guests would be ordering nice wines on my expense account so I started tasting them and was blown away. At the same time, I was also becoming more acquainted with wine when we would be hanging out with my brother-in-law Chad and sister-in-law Janet. My interest and love of wine exploded for me when we all visited Napa together in 1999. We would joke around about getting into the wine business. Around 2002, Chad started telling me about this great little wine community called Walla Walla, Washington, and the dream started turning into a living reality very quickly. By May 2003, things were rolling ahead and by September we had all moved to Walla Walla in pursuit of the dream!"—Corey Braunel, Dusted Valley and Boomtown, WA
First, A Shop
First, A Shop
"Shortly before my wife and I were married, we opened a wine shop in Ashland, Oregon. It didn't take long for me to realize this was a career path I wanted to follow, so we sold the shop and moved to Davis, California for graduate school with the intent of returning to our home state of Washington after I earned my degree. Few things go exactly according to plan, but in this instance, our plan worked perfectly. I've been making wine in the Columbia Valley since we returned to Washington in 1984."—Mike Januik, Novelty Hill and Januik Winery, Washington
Following Footsteps
Following Footsteps
"I did grow up at a farm and winery in Germany, which dates back to the 15th century. One would think that it would be "just normal” to walk in the footsteps of one’s ancestors. I did get involved at a very young age and developed a deep love for creating something special out of the fruit of the vine early on. The desire to pursue a career in this field came a very natural way."—Johannes Reinhardt, Anthony Road, New York
A Great Mentor
A Great Mentor
"I grew up in LA and my parents were wine drinkers, so I was exposed to wine at a young age. I really started tasting wine my senior year in high school. That summer I went up to work at Au Bon Climat in Santa Barbara with Jim Clendenen and I was hooked. Jim became my mentor and I started my winery three years later after working a year abroad and doing 3 harvest in CA. I worked for Jim for 8 years become leaving to start a new winery with Bill Price."—Gavin Chanin, Price Chanin Vineyards and Chanin Wine Company, California
Going to Grandpa's House
Going to Grandpa's House

"My grandparents owned 80 acres of Thompson Table grapes in Sanger, CA. We used to spend a week in summer visiting, which often coincided with harvest. I always loved being out in the vineyard with my grandpa as he drove the tractor to pick up the freshly picked grapes. The sweet smell of the hot summer sun on freshly picked grapes is such a strong olfactory memory for me that I can even smell it now!

I happened upon the wine industry by lucky coincidence. My early love of plants had me heading towards a career in botany, so I chose University of California, Davis, the reference institution for agricultural education. One summer, several of my friends from Napa encouraged me to stay in California and work at a winery rather than return home to the East Coast to clerk for the Federal Aviation Administration. Wasn’t too difficult to convince me to stay in Napa! My first job was the graveyard shift at Domain Chandon. That summer set the stage for the rest of my career. I realized I could combine my love of science and farming into a career producing a highly enjoyable end product—wine!"—Lynn Penner-Ash, Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, Oregon

A Family Effort
A Family Effort
"My mom and dad asked me if I would start a family business with them, growing and making wine in the Dundee Hills of Oregon's Willamette Valley. I was a business student at the time with a strong entrepreneurial spirit. Our family was not from wine, nor were we great amateurs of drinking or collecting wines. So it was really the exciting idea of starting something from the ground up. I fell in love with wine during that whole process. I delved very deeply into study and training and tastings and I couldn't help but fall head over heels for all that wine has to offer."—Josh Bergström, Bergström Wines, Oregon
Was a Photographer First
Was a Photographer First
"I got into the wine business pretty unexpectedly. In 2009, my parents bought a property with a small vineyard just west of Charlottesville, VA. By January of 2010 I had moved down from NYC to help them launch Stinson Vineyards—our family winery and vineyard. My background was in photography and production, but the opportunity to learn something completely different intrigued and excited me. Photography and winemaking aren't that far off: both are based in science and technical skills with the end result more on the artistic side. I had no previous knowledge of Virginia wine, but I quickly fell in love with it. There are so many different styles being made here! In a newer wine region there is less pressure on the producers and more room for experimentation. Our amazing winemaking and vineyard consultants, Matthieu Finot and Lucie Morton, led us through our first vintage in 2010, which was such a great year that it was deceptively easy. It was hard work, lots of heavy lifting and being covered in grape juice all day. But the results made it all worthwhile!"—Rachel Stinson, Stinson Vineyards, Virginia