My Second Career as a Winemaker

3 Sep

By Lisa Dinsmore

winebrickWell, not MY second career. When we were trying to come up with a seminar topic that was unique to our Festival this idea just jumped out. I mean, both of our co-founders make their own wine and have had success in completely different arenas (acting and the music business) which certainly introduced them to wine on a personal level, but not as a future business endeavor or labor of love. It seems once wine captures your heart there’s a sizable, and ever-growing, group of wine lovers who get bit by the wineMAKING bug as well. The Garagiste Festival is proof of that.

Sure the basics are pretty simple, grape juice WILL ferment without much help. Hell, during Prohibition you could buy a “wine brick” that came with the warning – “After dissolving the brick in a gallon of water, do not place the liquid in a jug away in the cupboard for twenty days, because then it would turn into wine” – so it’s clearly not exactly hard letting fermentation take its’ course, but turning it into something extraordinary, well, that’s a whole different ball of wax.

People assume because you work in the wine business and are deeply in love with the subject that becoming a winemaker is the next logical step. I’m asked that ALL the time. I can assure you I’m not going down that road. I don’t have the patience and I’m not into physical labor. I’ve seen behind the “glamorous curtain” of wine dinners and festivals. I’ve woken up before dawn to pick grapes, helped press, bottle and clean. God the amount of cleaning – that just never ends – is just not for me. My wine quest is of a different nature, but I sure am impressed by those who decide to take the plunge.

2ndcareer1Over the last few years running the Festival, I have met hundreds of winemakers and every one of them shares that same undeniable drive and dedication to get dirty and make a wine they can call their own. Garagistes are a special breed because almost 95% have no family connection to the land or the wine business.

For most of them, this is a second career and / or a passion they are doing on the side while still working in a completely unrelated industry. While around 25% of the participants pouring in Paso started in the wine business in some way or went to school to specifically become winemakers, the bulk have pretty much come to this “second career” the old-fashioned way…by drinking and falling in love with the grape. Some put their calling on hold until they retired, but most have just jumped right in, unable to ignore the siren’s call. Doing it while holding down another full time job…that’s Garagiste.

Owning a winery used to be more prohibitive when having your own vineyard was almost essential to the process, but now there seems to be plenty of grapes to go around. In CA the last 20 years has seen a 44% upswing in vineyard acreage. The number of actual wineries has tripled in the same amount of time. There were 845 in 1992 and as of 2012 over 3700. Everyone seems to be jumping on the winemaking bandwagon. Ninety percent of our Garagiste wineries are under 10 years old, 50% of those had their first vintage between 2009-2013. America has clearly embraced the wine culture in a very big way, not only on the consumption side – which we are now #1 per total gallons consumed (not per capita, which may be a good thing) – but also on the production side with wineries operating in every state of the Union.

2ndcareer2While making wine seems to be becoming an easier proposition each year (though it’s certainly an expensive endeavor), growing grapes and farming the land is a bit more of a dangerous game. Sure, you won’t have to find grapes to buy and you have total control of the product from start to finish; however, having to rely on Mother Nature for your future happiness is not for the feint of heart. As Steve Matthiasson so recently quipped after the Napa earthquake: “Mother Nature always bats last.” Though we have plenty of sunshine here, there IS vintage variation, and owning land just adds to the potential complications. However, it is the core of the dream for many of us, the beauty and soul of the venture. You can’t have one without the other.

For all of you dreaming of taking the plunge, we are sure you will learn a lot from this years’ panelists — Bob Tillman (Alta Colina Vineyards), Carl Bowker (Caliza Winery) and Victor Abascal (Vines on the Marycrest) — each of whom took a very different path to the one they are now on, all finding and falling in love with Paso Robles and making it their home. They have all been working for the past decade to make a name for themselves in the ever-growing landscape of this ever-changing and developing wine region and their experiences in starting over from the ground up will assuredly illuminate not only the growth of this region, but what it takes to make a small corner of it your own. Their passion is contagious and you’ll get to taste the fruits of their labor as well as learn from their hands on experience what it takes to get your feet stomping. You’d better watch out or you’ll find yourself with buckets, bottles and barrels filling your garage, too. They sure have me tempted….

“Making A Dream Come True: My Second Career as a Vineyard Owner & Winemaker” Seminar will take place at our 4th Annual Paso Robles Festival on November 8th, as part of the Premium All-Day Pass.  For full ticket details, please visit our Buy Tickets page.


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