DO YOU EVER ENVISION being whisked away on an adventure? Of course, you do, but it’s normally just a day dream. I shared my vision with a colleague and to my surprise, the advice he gave catapulted me into a sea of possibilities.
We were exchanging stories about working in a major wine region some day when he casually mentioned the Somm Foundation’s Enrichment trips. Later that evening, I found myself on the website perusing the opportunities. As I was scrolling through the trips, I came across a two-month long harvest internship at Brooks Winery in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. I thought to myself, what an amazing chance to take part in a movement I’m passionate about. On a whim, I applied the following day.
Nearly three months passed by and to my astonishment, I received an email confirming I was one of four individuals in the US selected to work at the winery. The Somm Foundation made my day dream a reality. As cliché as this may sound, it was everything I imagined and more. We were welcomed by a gracious production and tasting room team that went out of their way to make our experience informative and enjoyable. The accommodations for our harvest team was a rustic and charming farmhouse 50 feet from the winery. There was a chicken coop and a vegetable and herb garden on the property. Rainbows were almost a weekly occurrence; it was very surreal.
With winemaker Chris Williams at the helm and Claire Jarreau as Assistant Winemaker, Brooks proudly practices Organic and Biodynamic farming. Their wine making style is very hands off allowing the wine to speak for itself. We took part in virtually every step of the process from grape sorting to barreling down the wine.
I never thought I could become so connected to a vine or a piece of winery equipment. After walking through picturesque vineyards collecting grape clusters for brix testing or working hours on a sorting line, you develop an attachment to the craft. Music playlists and inside jokes became our life lines and we quickly found out who the comedian was in the group. Breaking down the de-stemmer surprisingly became my favorite past time.
We would wake up 10 minutes before work to take advantage of everyone minute of sleep. The days were long, and the manual labor wreaked havoc on our bodies, however the sense of accomplishment was overwhelming.
I loved watching the grapes come in, personally delivered by local famers that were considered friends. Some days we received more than 20 tons. We hand sorted every cluster and transitioned the destemmed grapes to their new residence in a macro bin. We tended to them twice a day, massaging them through repetitious punch downs taking up to 4 hours per session at the hardest stage of the fermentation process. They were our babies and it was bitter sweet watching them eventually leave their bins for the press. The press also meant a new stage in their lives. They were developing before us and soon they would enter a tank or barrel where more careful monitoring took place. The winery was reconfigured several times, first to accommodate the new arrivals and then to make way for the dearly departed. It was a beautiful ebb and flow, even poetic at times.
The personal bonds that were formed are priceless and fond memories will linger for years to come. This experience was all thanks to a non-profit organization that facilitates enriching experiences for wine professionals created through their philanthropic successes. Their dedication to giving back to the wine community is truly commendable. Cheers to making dreams come true!