A lifetime passion for the art of winemaking

My first experience with wine was in college when I decided to
make my own.
I was tired of the Canadian staple of that time, Andres Baby
Duck, and was looking for something with more flavor. So I made
wine in my dorm room with the bottles fermenting under my bed,
using local grape concentrates. I moved on to helping my Italian
neighbors in Toronto harvest their backyard crops.
My first experience with wine was in college when I decided to make my own.

I was tired of the Canadian staple of that time, Andres Baby Duck, and was looking for something with more flavor. So I made wine in my dorm room with the bottles fermenting under my bed, using local grape concentrates. I moved on to helping my Italian neighbors in Toronto harvest their backyard crops.

I was hooked on the friendliness and the communal sharing of that neighborhood, where wine was simply another beverage.

I did the public relations for Canada’s wine guru and author, Tony Aspler, and when I was looking for a career change a few years ago, I looked for a job in the wine industry.

In Los Angeles, I was lucky to find two mentors who own a wine shop in West Hollywood. Rene Averseng and Stacie Hunt taught me what I needed to know about California wine specifically and the world of wine in general.

My last one and a half years as the executive director of a local wine growers association has given me an appreciation of what it takes to make wine: From the vine to the glass. And I feel the local San Benito County industry is certainly well qualified to take on Napa and beyond.

I’m not a wine snob: I grew to like wine by experimenting, tasting and pairing it with food. And I’m still learning every day. I like its history, its science and its art form. The local winemakers give the industry its character and richness. History and art in a glass – what could be better?

This is my favorite time of year in the vineyard. There is a sense of urgency and a flurry of activity at harvest time. The purr of the crushers echo across the fields and new wine is in the barrels! The grapes I have watched grow from miniature bunches to lush ripe clusters have been picked and are now well on their way to becoming a great bottle of wine.

With more than 80 local wineries within 40 minutes of Hollister, autumn is the perfect time to take a day trip through your regional paradise. The best local fall foliage is in the vineyard – the leaves turn as many shades of reds and golds as the Maples on the East Coast.

With activity changing from the fields to the winery, fall is a perfect time to get behind the scenes as the winemaking process gets under way. In fact, the local wine regions offer a seasonal adventure of festivals, barrel tastings, new releases and holiday shopping.

I love the passion and energy winemakers bring to their work. Last weekend, I attended The Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association seventh annual Great Wine Escape Weekend.

Rich Tanguay, winemaker at Heller Estate Winery in Carmel Valley, hands stained purple up to the wrists, taught a room full of budding wine masters how to blend wine using a pipette and a graduated cylinder. We worked diligently with our percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc to come up with the perfect blend.

What we found out is that each of our blends was unique to us, a signature wine, as individual as a fingerprint.

This is what I love about wine – there are no right or wrong answers. Most of us drink what we enjoy, and with a little experience and knowledge, we can expand the range of our taste buds.

I want this column to be a resource for the wine curious and the wine lover. I want to share the passion of the winemaker and explore what happens in the vineyard, the winery and the industry with you. There are incredible stories to tell, local personalities to meet, and opportunities to expand your knowledge about wine.

My focus will be on the industry as a whole with special attention on San Benito Country, which has a rich tradition of winemaking. The local wineries are pioneers in exceptional growing techniques and award-winning wine production. Small production and hands-on dedication are the hallmarks of the region, making the wines of San Benito County contenders on the world stage.

I want your input. Questions and comment are welcome. Do you have a favorite winery, a cherished bottle, a great wine-tasting experience? Let me know.

We are fortunate to live with the vines virtually in our backyards in this region. In this column you’ll meet your neighbors. The local wineries will welcome you as family and soon you will be sharing their passion, and mine, for art in a glass.

Valerie Brockbank can be reached at [email protected]

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