The lives of vineyard owners and winemakers are much more unglamorous and unpredictable than you might think
Managing a vineyard can be a complicated balancing act between several aspects of the business.
The weather is a ruthless wildcard – forest fires, frost, and hailstorms can kill almost a year of grapes.
Winery owners love the outdoors, the complex winemaking process and the end product.
Despite years of studying and learning from professional winemakers before opening a vineyard, the amount of work required to run a winery again surprised Tony Smith, the owner of Cave Ab Astris in the Texas wine country.
âWinemaking is romantic for some people, and sometimes it’s romantic. But there’s just a lot of hard work,â he told Insider. “It’s a lot harder than I thought.”
Boutique vineyard owners told Insider they oscillated between spending hours in the fields pruning, picking grapes, and doing farm chores; guide guests through wine tastings; governing the tedious process of winemaking and handling all the typical tasks of running a business.
âMaking wine is not an easy process,â Lloyd Davis, owner of Corner 103 in Sonoma, Calif., said. An unexpected frost, a pervasive pest, abnormal hailstorms or raging forest fires can wipe out almost an entire year of work.
In California, Davis left nearly a full year of harvest on the vines after raging forest fires have suffocated the vineyard in a layer of ash and imbued the grapes with an unpleasant flavor similar to cigarette smoke. In Texas, a week of freezing cold and hailstorms killed the buds of Smith’s flowering vines and brought her production down to a fraction of the previous year. On the East coast, lanterns can decimate hectares of plants by sucking the invigorating sap from the vines.
âIn the world of wine, there’s always something going on, whether it’s the weather, rain or no rain, wildfires,â Davis said. “There is always something to keep you on your toes.”
However, Davis said one of the pleasures of owning a vineyard is creating a wine he enjoys drinking, a process that sits at the junction of scientific precision, personal taste, and intuition.
âIt’s like cooking,â he said. “There is a recipe for making a wine, but if you follow the recipe, you are going to make something barely drinkable.”
Once the grapes are pressed, the juice ferments over periods of several months in vats, oak barrels and bottles. Davis tastes the liquid throughout the process to know what type of barrel to put the wine in, whether to add a piece of oak wood to the barrel to bring the wine closer to its ideal flavor, and when the wine is ready to go. to be freed.
When deciding which grapes to pick each day – around October, he chooses Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – he measures the sugar content but bases his decision on whether the grapes have a compelling flavor.
âAs any winemaker will tell you, great wine begins in the vineyard,â said Theodora Lee, owner of Theopolis vineyards.
It is tedious work. While Lee enjoys fine wine, farming and the outdoors, she said running her business leaves her with almost no time for personal relationships, while the intense heat, drought and wildfires linked to global warming make grapes more and more vulnerable.
Problems related to the pandemic also reduced income for winemakers who relied on major events, restaurant sales and corporate wine tastings before the pandemic.
Chris Wachira, the owner of Wachira wines, struggles to staff without additional money to attract candidates. Although she wishes to export wines to Kenya, her home country, where she has never been able to find Californian wine, she halted the expansion of her business due to an overwhelming shortage of bottles. in glass to ship its products.
“It quadrupled my stress level,” said Wachira. “There’s always a new problem to be solved.”
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