Why 26 V&E students pursued a life in wine

“I love the way it demands your full presence, not just mentally, but also your senses.”

— Devyani Gupta, Valdemar Estates

In this installment of The Walla Walla Way, we’re sharing words from 26 alums of the Walla Walla Community College’s V&E program. In 2022 and 2023, current students sat down with alums who had graduated and began working in the Walla Walla Wine Valley. For this installment, we shine a light on 26 alums answering the questions: what do you like most about making wine and growing grapes?


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1. “This is work that I like because no two days are the same. It blends academics, science, and showmanship.” — Meghan Fitzgerald, Precept Wine

2. “For me, it’s being able to grow something, harvest, ferment, bottle, talk about, then sell. There are really not many industries like that. I like being surrounded by plants all day, also when working in the vineyard I listen to podcasts and books on tape, last year there were about 19 books. Aside from that, just being able to see the grapes that go into the wines and taste them showing through is very rewarding.” — Sager Small, Woodward Canyon Winery

3. My favorite part of my job is[..] how multi-faceted it is. In the vineyards I can be pruning, spraying for weeds or tractor work such as cultivating and hoeing. In the cellar I can be blending, racking, topping, and bottling. During harvest I’m checking grape samples, processing fruit, running the press and good ol’ punch downs.” — Blake Hintz, Saviah Cellars

4. “On the day-to-day side, I particularly love the way it demands your full presence, not just mentally, but also your senses. Being ‘present’ demands your mind, nose, and palate.” — Devyani Gupta, Valdemar Estates

5. “What is special about our industry is that wine is much more than just a beverage. ….Truthfully, I see it as more of a lifestyle. I enjoy all the different seasons and tempos that my job in the cellar offers. Harvest time is by far my favorite time of the year. I love building and working in teams with common goals. It is sort of like building a championship-winning Fútbol team, only our world cup happens every vintage.” — Salvador Jimenez, Gramercy Cellars

6. “It might sound odd, but I feel a connection to our ancestors. What an incredible opportunity this all is. Harvest happens but once a year, and I love the intensity of the season. While stressful and exhausting, I find pleasure in seeing how hard I can go, how much stronger I can be. Everyday your senses are overloaded with smell, taste, and visuals (color).” — Christopher Castillo, Castillo de Feliciana

7. “It’s a very friendly industry, with a lot of happy people who are always willing to share their knowledge. There is nothing better than pouring a bit of happiness for others to taste.” — Toby Turlay, Ducleaux Cellars

8. “Making wine is one of the most challenging and humbling endeavors there is and I love this constant journey of discovery that wine has made possible…My favorite part of the job is when I open a bottle of wine that people find delicious and pleasurable. I remember Christophe Baron from Cayuse saying he sold “pleasure” and that’s exactly what wine should be.” — Robert Gomez, Hoquetus Wine Co

9. “No one will ever know everything about wine: the varietals, the farming, the growing areas, production. There is so much to learn and no one is TRULY an expert….I like the whole experience of seeing the cycle of the year: watching the vines grow, the plants starting to produce. […]It’s surreal watching something develop literally from the ground up like that, and bringing people pleasure with your wine and helping to make memories.” — Elizabeth Bourcier, Cayuse Vineyards

10. “The people and the wine are so experienced based. The industry is special because it evolves around what you are eating, who you are sharing it with and the moment that it is happening….I like that I get to work with a team to create memorable experiences through true hospitality.” — Tabitha Crenshaw, Spring Valley Vineyard

11. “What other product out there can you eat or drink it, and know where it was grown just from the flavor? It is just fascinating. I love being outside and working with a team. I love harvest and tending to the machinery. That first day when the fermentations really start kicking off and the winery smells like new fermentations, there’s so much to love.” — Laura Detwiler, Garrison Creek Cellars

12. “Being able to be hands on and watch your product/babies go from dirt to bottle is simply amazing. Also, as cliche as it sounds, I don’t ever feel like I’m working…When folks tell you how much they love what you make, it is one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had.” — Kevin Masterman, Rotie Cellars, Proper

13. “Every year you’re working with different challenges and different qualities that make the wines special. There is also so much tradition, science, and world history to learn about.” — Ken Jones, Abeja

14. “I love the competitive nature of the industry. The best part is getting to work in all parts of the industry, and getting inspired by others.” — Josh McDaniels, Bledsoe Wine Estate

15. “My two absolute favorite parts of my job are blending sessions and barrel trial tasting. When you work mostly in custom crush, these sessions are your opportunity to refine the wines that you have worked so hard on and expand and train your palate.” — Joseph Czarny, Canvasback Wines

16. “I think just being able to do so many different things; I get to perform hands-on chemistry, work with great people, and produce an incredible product as well!” — Jake Kotzman, Artifex

17. “I like the challenge of creating a great product that satisfies my artistic side and the challenge of profitability that satisfies my business side. It’s special having these two characteristics blended together.” — George-Anne Robertson, Yellowhawk Resort and Sparkling House

18. “Our industry allows me to see the joy people have when tasting the wine I have had so much to do with. The whole process from grape to glass is such a wonderful adventure. I love talking, sharing, and producing wine that people are excited about. My favorite part is tasting the wine throughout fermentation, then at the end when everything starts to come together, and you can feel what the finished wine will be like.” — Forest Rogers-Phillips, August Forest Wines

19. “The wine industry is a great environment to work in. I’ve met and worked with some amazing people during harvest, especially the local winemakers, while putting August Forest Wines together….I like how every day in winemaking is different, it’s like I get to do different things and not be stuck doing the same thing day after day. — CJ Augustine, August Forest WInes

20. “My favorite part is the challenge piece. Being on the edge of it, the risk. And the doing a little bit of everything, I’m really enjoying that.” — Chad Honsinger, RYZO Wines

21. “Being in complete and total control of all aspects of the creative process has been extremely freeing for me….Being able to open up a bottle to share with people but then to also look at that bottle and say “I made that.” — Steve Wells, Time and Direction

22. “I love crafting and making something tangible that can be shared with others.  In architecture school we always talked about the “art of making” and to me this is a very pure form of that.” — Matt Reilly, Prospice Wines

23. “We get to create something that is always evolving, and you only get one chance a year to make it.” — Marcus Rafanelli, L’Ecole

24. “I love meeting and pouring my elegant wine for our customers. […]I keep learning more and more about our great United States, its good, common people, their families, lives, and their relationships with fine wine.” — Doug Simmons, Eleganté Cellars

25. “It’s a lifestyle. Winemaking isn’t so much a job, but a way of life.” — Keith Johnson, Devium Wines

26. “Processing the fruit, especially when you’re doing it yourself, you know? Going through that whole process of going from grape to wine is absolutely my favorite. And tasting your way through that process.” — Rob Wohr, Explohr Wine Company 

* These words were originally published as a series on the Washington Wine website between 2022 and 2023. We have taken words from those 32 interviews and distilled them into 2 posts for our Walla Walla Way series. You can see the other one here.

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