Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fun With Wine: Week 1

The view of the winery from the road

The vineyard with mountains as a backdrop

Benton-Lane pinot barrel

I hit the ground running my first week of my internship at Benton-Lane Winery. Out of 150 applicants, I, along with seven colleagues, was selected to pull crazy hours, get sticky and wet, haul hoses, and play with wine.

The crushpad prepped and ready for the first fruit

On our first day, there was a major awe factor when touring the facilities. They have some of the biggest and best equipment and lots of it! Boasting, 15 stainless steel tanks, a bladder press, pulse air, and so many other fun toys, Benton-Lane is truly state of the art. We sat down for an overview of the winery, our job, and met the winemaker Chris Mazepink and cellarmaster Howie Opatowsky. After orientation and a tour, we had a kick off lunch with a wine tasting and made our own pizzas with the on-site wood burning oven! We also enjoyed some local beer and spent time getting to know each other. Turns out, I'm in the minority for not making my own wine or brewing my own beer. I'm working with fermentation junkies! Not only will I learn a lot from this internship, but from my co-workers.

Making my own pie

With a few days of serious cleaning and ramping up for harvest under our belts, we set up for the first fruit. The first grapes to arrive was the winemaker's personal pinot noir from a neighboring vineyard. We only had to process a few tonnes, so it was a fairly light day. Processing entails sorting, destemming, and crushing the fruit. Sorting is probably the least laborious position, but it certainly is dirty! Earwigs are all over the grapes and they end up in your clothes and hair. I found them in my hair and jacket after I got home- gross! The pinot gris also arrived, which was dumped straight into the press as whole berries. Clean up wasn't terrible and we got used to how a typical day will play out. A couple more days of prep and incoming fruit, all leading up to Monday, which promised to be a huge day. Saturday we scrubbed tanks from the inside, pictures of me doing this soon to come, and we racked the pinto gris. Racking is a clarifying procedure where we pump the wine from one tank to another sloughing off the top layer of peanut butter like liquid. While doing this, I had Howie the cellarmaster shout out score updates on the UT football game. Such a Monday came quickly; we processed 65 tonnes of pinot noir in one day! It was the biggest day in the cellar since the winery opened. I was on the evening shift, so wine work was my responsibility. I learned how to do pump overs. Pump overs take the juice out from under the cap of seeds and skins and pump it back on top. This is essentially like stirring, helping to homogenize the wine especially after additives have been introduced. I love doing punch downs (which is another way to "stir" the wine), so I was equally excited to do pump overs. And it got me out of cleaning!

Bobby and I were tasked for sanitizing the sorting line... job well done!

Another fun thing I participated in was forklift training and test. Had they seen my driving record, I doubt they would have let me on that machine! I need a few more practice rounds, but I was getting the hang of it and managed to pass the test.

Still can't believe they let me behind the wheel!

I magically got a day off last week and seized the opportunity to head to the coast. It is absolutely gorgeous! I spent some time on the beach, checked out the tidepools, visited Newport, said hello to the sea lions, and did a beer flight at Rogue Brewery on the Bay. All in all, a great day off, especially since those are few and far between. The weather is about to turn rainy, so I was happy to get the beach in while it was still sunny.

We had today off due to a 70% chance of rain, can't pick in the rain, so I've taken the time to catch up on all the emails and phone calls I've been neglecting, as well as laundry and errands.

This coming week is proving to be a very busy one and packed in with lots of things to learn. As we get all the fruit in from the 140 acre vineyard, we will be more focused on wine work, fermentation, and eventually transferring to barrels. I'm also helping a fellow intern out with harvesting some of his fruit for his own wine this Sunday. The calendar says it will be a harvest moon! So for now, I am living, breathing, and of course, drinking wine!

More updates to come whenever I get another day off! In the interim, you can see my photos on Flickr.


  1. Madeleine Jane's Excellent Adventure! How fabulous is this, earwigs notwithstanding!

  2. Awesome! congratulations on your internship. Hope to read more.