Making Wine in the Russian River Valley
By Kevin Kelley
30 May 2008
What's your profession? Please describe it.
I am a winemaker in California's Russian River Valley. I spend a great deal of time outside in the vineyards. Farming will test a person's stamina and sanity as it requires long hours of hard work and nothing is guaranteed. Every once in a while, Mother Nature will step in and teach you lesson. A hard frost or a bad storm can take away your entire season in an hour or two. Conversely, I also spend many hours in the confines of the damp, dark wine cellar. I am here to ensure that the cellar environment is optimized and perfectly clean so that the microbial world can perform its magic. At all times my sensory skills need to be sharp. Tiny differences in taste and smell indicate smooth sailing or an approaching problem. In the lab, I put on my scientists hat and watch the process at the chemical and microbiological level. Finally, once the wine is made, the selling begins. From private tastings and winemaker dinners to meeting with sommeliers. I must present my story, pour the wine and hope they enjoy drinking it as much as I enjoyed making it.
Where do you do this?
I am located in Northern California in the Russian River Valley.
Do you enjoy what you do?
I absolutely love what I do because of the variability and challenge that it provides. The learning curve never levels off as each vintage is completely different from previous ones. Each and every day is a challenge that has me doing something new, from electrical and plumbing tasks in the winery to disease and insect pressure in the vineyards. The variability keeps you moving and on your toes. I may be up to my knees in mud pruning a vine in the morning and then three hours later walking into a five star San Francisco restaurant for a tasting.
When you were young, what did you want to "be" when you grew up?
I was all over the place as a kid. I loved the challenge and understanding that science provided but felt stifled by the florescent lights and rigid nature of the scientific discipline. My favorite pass time was creating music and art. However loving food so much made the idea of starving not so appealing. I was very interested in the mystique and history of wine when I graduated from high school. When I learned more about the details of the industry, I was hooked and I never looked back.
Do you feel stuck doing what you are doing?
Not at all! There are so many different learning experiences and business opportunities available to me right now. Stagnation is not even on the horizon.
What are the most and least satisfying parts of your job?
The most satisfying aspect of my job is taking a simple grape and turning it into something that provides pleasure and acts as a historical record for a specific time and place.
The least satisfying aspect of my job is the paper work and bureaucracy that I must deal with to make wine. With prohibition era laws still on the books, the red tape can be thick.
How do you combine photography with your job?
I primarily use photography as another artistic outlet for myself. However, it also forces me to look at things differently from many angles. This really pushes me to look at the underlying detail which improves the work I do. In addition I have a great photographic record that I refer to often when creating a track record or comparing vintages.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I hope you enjoy the pictures!