I’m often asked how I got started in the wine business. My flippant response is “work-release program from prison." In reality, I got lucky. But I was the one who decided that it was something I wanted, and then I took the required steps once the opportunity arose. It wasn’t easy rearranging my life to be able to get two to three months off work each year for harvest. It was even harder keeping the day job while we grew the winery to its current production level. But all the hard work was worth it, and now both Kimberly and I are full-time winemakers.
Since I was so fortunate to have been helped by Norman Beko at Cottonwood, I’ve felt a need to help other people start up their wineries as well. Just like in the movie, Kimberly and I are paying the debt forward. We've been able to help incubate five other wineries—Waltzing Bear, AP Vin, Pali Wine Company, Golden’s Wines and (starting this year) P2 Wines. This hasn’t been completely altruistic on our part since we get a built-in labor force by having these other wineries at our place. Brad Lowman of Waltzing Bear and Andrew Vingiello of AP Vin have since moved on to other locations, but we still have a family of wineries under our roof.
Since I discuss my starting out in my bio, I’ll use another inmate of Pinot Prison, Mike Padrick of P2 Wines, to illustrate how it works. I met Mike in March 2005 when Jenny Bonaccorsi and I were on a tasting tour with our Colorado distributor, John Salamanski. One of our stops was Larkspur restaurant in Vail. After our presentation, Mike approached me and asked if we ever allowed people to come out and help with harvest. I gave my standard reply that we loved people to come help—fully knowing that hardly anyone ever really showed up. Mike not only came out to help, he ended up staying for two months. In the six years I've been making this offer, only a handful of people have actually showed up, and of that small list, only Mike, Brad, Andrew and Barry Golden have decided to stay. Mike keeps thanking us for the opportunity … but we keep telling him we only showed him the door—he decided to walk through.
With the advent of the Internet wine boards, I think a lot of people have seen stories like mine and Mike’s and have dreamed of leaving their current careers and starting in the wine biz. For those of you that feel that way, all I can say is find some way—any way—to spend some time working a crush at a winery. Many wineries bring on interns during harvest, so build up your vacation days and go for it. It’s not glamorous work … it’s actually very physical, dirty work. The hours suck. And the words “day off” aren’t part of the vocabulary. But if you do it, and love it, you’ll be hooked. It’s not for everyone, but for those of us who love it, we’d do anything to keep doing it.
And before anyone asks, we won’t be able to take on any other people. I’ve collected enough souls that my soul is now free, so you’ll have to look for someone else to help you get started. Sorry. We just don’t have the space to accommodate anyone else, but if you want it bad enough, you’ll find the opportunity.
Lisa Otoole — Kansas City — October 5, 2006 3:34pm ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — October 5, 2006 8:36pm ET
Matthew Wessler — October 5, 2006 8:37pm ET
Michael Tracy — trabuco canyon CA — October 5, 2006 9:54pm ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — October 6, 2006 1:37am ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — October 6, 2006 1:43am ET
Richard Hirth — Michigan — October 6, 2006 8:21am ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — October 6, 2006 12:09pm ET
Richard Hirth — Michigan — October 6, 2006 1:48pm ET
Kelly Walker — Charlotte — October 6, 2006 1:50pm ET
Randell Phalp — Lenexa, KS — October 7, 2006 11:05pm ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — October 8, 2006 2:13pm ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — October 8, 2006 2:18pm ET
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