New Zealand native sources grapes from over 25 unique vineyard sites in Washingon state for Maryhill Winery.
What do you do? I am the winemaker at Maryhill Winery. I visit vineyards in Washington state’s amazing American Viticultural Areas, from Walla Walla up through Central Washington and around the winery in the Columbia River Gorge. We source grapes from over 25 unique vineyard sites — 31 different wine grape varieties. I blend all of these together to create wonderful wines to enjoy.
How did you get started in that field? I was 10 and tasting some of my father’s homemade wines — most seemed unpalatable to me at the time, but a few were nice. I still laugh thinking about how my face must have looked tasting those at that age. Living out in the country in New Zealand, we grew many fruits and grapes, some of these being made into wine. Years later, I went to an agricultural school and earned a degree in horticulture and a post-graduate [degree] in viticulture and enology.
What’s a typical day like? During harvest, there are a lot of logistics to manage. It’s all about vineyard visits to taste fruit for maturity, scheduling with growers, trucking fruit to the winery and fermenting grapes to empty tanks before we need to fill them up with another lot of grapes. Throughout the rest of the year, we are prepping the wines for bottling from the previous year for the whites, and two years prior for the reds.
What’s the best part of the job? Aside from tasting great wines all day long, I love getting out and visiting vineyards and talking with all of our growers in Washington and Oregon. Watching the vines develop and the fruit mature really gets me geared up for the onset of harvest. Seeing how these tiny flowers transition into berries and following their process into a finished wine is a joy as a winemaker.
What surprises people about your work? Probably that many winemakers grow beards during harvest. Shaving just seems to slip off the list after a 16-hour day and three months committed to harvesting and fermenting the grapes. We even have a beard growing competition at work that is judged on the last day of harvest, one of the things we do to keep us all having fun.
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Each year, we also get five interns from around the world — from Argentina, Tasmania and even our own backyard of Goldendale, to name a few — and that brings a new energy and enthusiasm to harvest.