It’s clear that the Napa Valley has been established as one of the premier wine regions of the world, and people come from near and far to visit this esteemed land. The valley also has piqued the interest of those studying wine.
Harvest in the Napa Valley not only brings in some of the finest grapes, but also those studying winemaking from places like South Africa, France, Chile and many other regions. Trinchero Family Estates is one of dozens of wineries that employs interns who serve in various harvest-time capacities. This year, for instance, Ansone Fourie and Lynne Baker, both of South Africa, and Tomy Barbe of France worked in the lab for the family-owned company.
“We do daily analysis of the wines. Each night, a list of dailies is prepared, and when we arrive in the morning, we know what we have to do,” Baker said of her responsibilities in the lab. All three have backgrounds in winemaking and studied enology in college, but were looking to further their learning by working a harvest in the Napa Valley.
“If you want to understand American wines, one place stood out and that was Napa Valley,” Fourie said. “This place is somewhat of an icon in the industry.”
Baker returned to the Napa Valley after a harvest in the Carneros region last year. “I got to work on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and this year I’m learning about the lab,” she said.
Barbe came to the Napa Valley after working in the Bordeaux region of France. “I worked in Pessac-Leognan and Entre-Deux-Mers, as well as in the Rhone Valley,” Barbe said. “Now I am here to learn about different styles. In France, what Americans would call the winemaker is called the enologist. The enologist is separate from the winemaker or the cellarmaster. Here, I can learn other skills and gain experience to make me become a complete winemaker.”
Most of the harvest internships begin in July when the wineries in the Napa Valley begin to prepare for the impending harvest. ‘We get the tanks cleaned and ready to receive the fruit,” said Conrad Slabber, also of South Africa. “Then when the fruit arrives, we start working 12-hour days.”
Slabber and fellow South African Travis Langley are on staff in the Trinchero Family Estates’ cellar, handling pumpovers — a process in which the wine, now separated from the skins, is poured back over the skins to enrich color and structure. They also take regular sugar measurements and handle other analysis.
While their day-to-day duties are different from those of their colleagues, they hope to take away a similar experience — learning about the American techniques which they hope will help them become well-rounded winemakers. It’s understood among them that learning the ins and outs of the process and spending time in labs, cellars and tanks is the best method to learn all the intricacies of winemaking.
Also crucial to their education are their experiences with others in the industry. By immersing themselves in all that a wine region has to offer, they become one step closer to becoming a complete winemaker — and that requires spending time with those who have a similar passion for wines.