Thursday, December 9, 2010

Must Love the Outdoors

Yesterday I had a great day of spreading holiday cheer in the Napa valley. I visited many long time clients, and stopped to visit some new friends. There were a couple of interviews thrown in, so all in all, a very productive day.

I stopped by a vineyard operation that also makes olive oil on the farm. My contact has been managing the vineyards for years now, and also has overseen the olive orchards for some time, and showed me around the olive oil production facility. He didn't let me go visit the orchards because it was really muddy out there and the tractors had really mucked up the field. While I was gung-ho to still go out, we got to see some of the trees and see the picked berries go up the conveyor belt to the press.

I grew up in Northern California and my house backed up to a nature preserve. This was a favorite haunt for me; walking along the paths, picking wildflowers and breathing the fresh air. It was always surprising to hike up there and run into big groves of perfectly ordered olive trees. Looking into the history of these trees, it is believed they may have been planted during the Mission period when the Spanish friars cultivated the land. I grew up near Mission San Jose, and could see that history stood still in these groves.

Through the years volunteer trees had sprouted up--often being shaped into interesting topiaries by the cattle that grazed there. From the perfectly organized orchard to the erratic stands of younger trees I learned a lot about olives. First of all, they taste awful. This was seared into my brain at the age of 5, and never forgotten. Secondly, while they are everywhere and come ripe all at once, it isn't easy to cure them. Lastly, having lived with olive trees everywhere, I was always tracking in olive pits in the treads of my shoes. So, when I was given the chance to see how to really use those fruits, I jumped at it.

Visiting the production facility, it became evident that it takes a lot of pressure to extract the oil from those olives. While I had previously been kept out of the mud in the orchards, I learned how slippery the production floor can get. That traction flooring they use at the site was necessary--and still allowed for some slipping on my part.

It was a lot of fun to see the processing, and then to taste the finished product. I got to try some straight out of the press. I felt bad when I started to cough when the acid hit the back of my throat, but my friend said that olive oil comes in "one cough, two cough, or three cough strength". So when I was trying the finished product I wasn't as self conscious when the oil hit my throat. Tasting olive oils is something I've done infrequently, and it is always fun to swirl that viscous liquid around and then discern different flavors, and strengthes on your palate. But the protocol is a bit different because oil is oil, and hard to get out of your glass, or into the drain.

After the oil tour, I got to tour the vineyard a bit and try some experimental wines. This I have to say is always the most fun for me. I enjoy wine of course, but to me the process is even more interesting. My tour guide has worked for years on this property, and knows the soil structure and habits of the vines. He has experimented a lot with the fruit production on individual rows and varietals, making a few barrels to see how his viticulture practices affected the wine. Tasting wines that were as young as a month old, and up to two years old showed the range of variety grapes and wines can achieve. And drinking barrel samples is always a fun way to try wine.

On the way out of the property my friend was noting the continued presence of a stray Canadian goose. While this is the season that they migrate into the area, this one has been hanging around one spot of the vineyard for several days, alone. On my last visit to the vineyard we had talked about the different wildlife and about some of the river improvements he is working on to prevent flooding throughout the area and increase salmon and other wildlife habitat.

As that lone goose strolled across our path it hit me--this would be my dream job. Getting to be out in the fresh air, experiment with different viticulture and winemaking practices, donning rubber boots to walk through the fields. Yes, there is the flip side of the heat, dirt and hard work. But I've never shied away from that. Being able to track the seasons, learn what the land has to say to me, and deal with Mother Nature to produce wonderful fruit and exceptional products has a lot of appeal to me.

So what does this have to do with getting a job in the wine industry. Always think about what you enjoy and what you like to do. If you enjoy being outdoors--viticulture might be your game. If you enjoy experimenting with different juices and winemaking protocols in the cellar and the lab, winemaking may appeal to you. If you enjoy interacting with the public and enjoy creating a great experience for consumers, hospitality jobs are perfect. For some people, interacting with restaurateurs and retailers is a blast, and wine sales is an excellent career. Managing licensing and compliance is a great line of work for many people. Also, managing profit and loss statements, strategic planning and overseeing accounts receivable is an important role for every company. Think about what you like, how you can apply it to the wine industry, and be a great success. Good Luck.

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