Living my dream!

August 10, 2011 at 7:30 PM

I haven’t blogged for a couple of weeks…because I started my new job as a winemaker!  Could I say I always wanted to be a winemaker?  No, when I was five, I wanted to be a cow-girl, and then an astronaut, a firefighter, a French teacher...I never knew I could be a winemaker.  One of my favourite winemakers and mentor told me he had a choice of making orange juice or wine where he came from…but my life was never laid out for me in that way.  My path began without me knowing it, and looking back, I see it all began with Kool-aid.  I never added a full cup of sugar to a packet of Kool-aid as directed, it was too sweet, but added what I thought was just the right amount according to taste and flavour.  The cherry flavour was more refreshing left a bit tart, and required the least amount of sugar to be added.  The orange flavour needed a bit more sugar, but required less than the green flavour.  It wasn’t until I did my first blending trials that I remembered making the Kool-aid as a child.  It is so exciting and fascinating how flavours and aromas of wines can knit themselves together in a blend.  This past week, I have been living a dream I didn’t know existed as a child, but am so grateful to have as an adult.

In the last few months, going through the interview process, I have been asked some interesting questions.  One… did I like beer? Another… what has been your proudest wine moment? My proudest moment was the day the 2006 Quails’ Gate Riesling came off the bottling line, as it was the first wine I had seen from ‘bud to bottle’.  I was in the vineyards in the spring as the season began and was working on the bottling line over reading break.  One question that I found interesting to answer…with experience in both, do I prefer vineyards or the cellar??  A friend of mine has accused me of liking grapevines better than I like people.  When I related this accusation to a fellow grape grower recently, he responded with ‘grapevines are definitely more interesting’. 

As part of my orientation, I have been meeting the vineyard managers and growers who will provide us with the grapes for harvest this year.  It has been an immense advantage for me to see the vineyards and the grapes as they are developing.  Same varietals of grapes can grow so differently in two different locations.  I hope to see in the cellars how the wine develops from the individual vineyards and understand the flavours and aromas that are typical of each of the vineyards.  I was a little awe-struck when I visited a vineyard site that is one of the originals in the Okanagan Valley.  This property represents our history and evolution as a wine region.  With over 300 acres planted, at one time all hybrids, now only 10 acres of Chancellor are left.  The first Vitis vinifera grapes were planted here in the late 1960’s, Riesling at first, but now hosts just about every red and white varietal grown in the Okanagan Valley.  The only thing that kept me from day-dreaming too much about what this beautiful vineyard has experienced and produced over the years was the warning of rattlesnakes.  Three had been sited the next block over just the day before!


This won’t be my first harvest in the cellar, but it will be the first time that I will be a part of the decision making as to when to pick the grapes.  My mentor tells me that I will get to know the fermentation tanks like they are my children.  I will notice the changes in the tanks as the grapes are transformed into wine, just as a parent notices the changes in their children.  He says I will require just as much patience and love that parents have for their children, and that I will be just as proud.  I saw a shimmer of colouring on Gamay in Oliver this last week.  So we are getting close to Veraison in the vineyards.  It is the stage at which the grapes swell and red grapes begin to colour.  After a slow start to the season, the grapes are developing beautifully in the last few weeks of sun and heat.  The period after Veraison is Engustement.  This is the part I look forward to the most this year…as it will bring the vineyard and the winemaking together for me.  No longer will I have experience in both, but it will be the point that it all comes together for me as I taste the grapes in their final stage of development for the wine I will be making.  The grapes will be ready soon…whether I am ready or not!  But then again, what parent could say they were ever prepared?


Sunday_in_Oliver_042_3.jpgBarb is fascinated by the rapid growth in the wine industry since she arrived in the Okanagan Valley, and is curious to see how we define ourselves as a wine producing region.  She loves skiing, learned to surf in Chile and literally dances to her own beat.  She has just started in a junior winemaking role at Domaine de Chaberton Estate Winery in Langley, BC.  Contact Barb through email at with your comments or questions.


Please add a comment

Posted by George on
Good luck with are walking into a difficult situation where you will be supervising cellar and vineyard staff with 20+ years of experience. Take everything youe mentor says with a grain of salt...winemaking has changed since he was in school.
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It's a plarsuee to find someone who can think so clearly
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