Many wine lovers would love to make wine in their spare time – it really sounds like the most romantic of hobbies. But, in reality, making wine isn’t just a job, it’s a way of life that requires hard work, dedication and – during the harvest and wine making season – little time off. After spending months eye-to-eye with grapes, then going through the delicate process of turning the fruit into a delicious bottle of wine, downtime is not only required, but much needed. Whether it be lying in a hammock or piloting a plane until the lure of the grapes call again, you might be surprised to find out what winemakers are up to on their days off.
Rockin’ the Vineyards
Winemakers are a fun bunch to start with, but did you know lots of them are musicians, or in some cases they actually were rock stars before they became winemakers (Dave Matthews, Maynard James Keenan and Les Claypool come to mind). Winemakers from the Hourglass Wine Company, J. Christopher Winery, Relic Wines, and Tolosa winery are just a few who get their kicks making music in their free time.
Jay Somers, winemaker at J. Christopher Winery in Oregon, via Reverbnation
FUNK: Jay Somers is the winemaker at J. Christopher Winery in Oregon, a collaboration between himself and Riesling guru Ernst Loosen. But in his spare time Somers is the lead guitarist of Poncho Luxurio, a rock, jazz, funk band. Apparently Jay wanted to be a rock star as a kid…little did he know he’d be a wine rock star AND a killer guitarist.
ROCK ‘ ROLL: WristRocket is fun rock ‘n roll dance band full of Napa winemakers and wine industry folks. Jeff Smith, founder and winemaker of Hourglass Wine Company, and Mike Hirby, winemaker at Relic Wines, are both lead guitarists. With their fellow band members – who are all in the wine or hospitality business – they rock out special events, including the Auction Napa Valley Barrel Auction. Smith told the Napa Valley Register, mixing wine and rock and roll, “evoke a great deal of passion in people. Wine and music bring passion, balance, excitement, pleasure and friends to my life.”
CLASSICAL: Over in Argentina, famed winemaker German di Cesare of Trivento Bodegas Y Vinedos is an amazing classical guitarist. He likes to bring his guitar along to tasting events, and as Barbara Ritchie, of Good Food Revolution, remarked after a tasting, “as impressive as his winemaking is his talent as a classical guitarist, which we had the pleasure of enjoying at the end of the tasting.”
Escape to the Great Outdoors
It’s hard to be a winemaker if you don’t love the outdoors. There’s a lot of time spent outside, especially during harvest and when crushing grapes (not all in the most ideal weather). So, it really is not much of a surprise to find that quite a few vinters like to spend their downtime with Mother Nature.
CYCLING: Sometimes, the lure of the great outdoors is too much to resist. Bill Owen, winemaker for OS Winery in Seattle, is an avid bike rider. Actually, “avid” might be an understatement. If Owen’s hands aren’t wrapped around a wine bottle, they are most likely gripped the handlebars of his prized bike. Stepping away from producing his award-winning wines, he took some time off before harvest season a few years ago to bike around Germany wine country (read about it on his blog).
BIKING: Taking his need for speed up a notch, David Enns, winemaker and founder of Laughing Stock Vineyards, in beautiful British Columbia, likes to hop on his BMW motorcycle and take off. Literally. He has traveled through the vineyards of Chili, crossing the Andes eight times and refers to his adventure as the “Winemaker Diaries.” Speaking with the Wine Enthusiast Magazine, he confesses that bike riding and making wine have much in common, as “there’s a bunch of skills you need to know on an adventure ride. Winemaking, you’ve got to know a bunch of different things too, plus, motorcycle riding is just plain cool.”
SURFING: Give a winemaker some waves and apparently there’s a good chance he or she will start surfing. John Conover, of PlumpJack Winery in California, says his second passion is surfing (winemaking is his first love). In his spare time he hits the waves on one of his 20 surfboards. Growing up in Northern California, he spent summers in Hawaii and became enamored with the sport, which now extends to his winery. Flat screen televisions show surfing videos, which is something you don’t see every day in most wineries. Conover told Wine Enthusiast Magazine that there are many similarities between wine and surfing: “Every vintage is different, like every wave is different.”
FLYING: You’ve met some winemakers who like to recreate on land and sea. There are quite a few winemakers who take to the skies in their free time as well. The Flying Vintners is a group of around 20 such winemaker pilots. That’s where we found Jose Picazo of PICAZO Vineyards in California, which sells Bordeaux style wines. But when he’s not making wine, Jose loves to fly his Cessna 310R. He also flies RC planes and helicopters, sails the waters of San Francisco Bay, AND Jose is an amateur Ham radio operator.
Little Bit of This, Little Bit of That
Some winemakers hobbies just don’t fall into any particular category, their pastimes are as unique as their wines. Here are a few of the intriguing things some winemakers do in their spare time.
METEOROLOGY: Meet Jeff Popick, Viticulture Instructor and Vineyardist for College Cellars in Walla Walla, Washington. Jeff is apparently fascinated by the weather. His lifelong dream, according to his bio, is to land a job working for The Weather Channel as an on-air meteorologist. He fills his free time researching weather patterns and events and writing a weekly column for the Saint Helena Star newspaper called “On Weather.”
CERAMICS: By day Paul Beveridge makes wine at Wilridge Winery in Seattle. By night, he’s a ceramic artist! His works are large, hand-thrown pieces that have been called “gorgeous” by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Recently he has been producing ceramic wine bottles in unique shapes and sizes.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Shannon Gustafson is the winemaker for Rangeland Wines. Her passion for wines began at a young age, but stepping outside of the winery, particularly after a long day is important, especially when harvest is at its peak. She grabs her camera and, according to VINO Magazine, walks around the vineyard photographing the wildlife that inhabits the area. From the eagles, deer and red tailed hawks, Gustafson says, “I’d much rather be working part time seeing the sunlight than locked in a winery all day. Not every winemaker is so lucky.”