What Does a Napa Valley Winemaker Do?

The Spring Schedule with Sebastian

 

         Winemaking is often perceived as a glamorous job – those winemakers just get to taste wine and walk around in stunningly beautiful vineyards all day, right? 

While we can’t deny the certain allure and charm the job has, we’d also like you to step into the shoes of a Grgich Hills winemaker and see that this work is so much more than enjoying the spoils of your labor – although that is definitely a part of it. Step into the shoes of Sebastian, one of our winemakers, and enjoy a journey through a typical Spring Tuesday in the Grgich Hills cellars. 

 

Morning – Nurturing the Babies in the Barrel

At any given time, be it winter, summer, spring, or fall, we have thousands of gallons of wine stored in our barrels and tanks. This wine needs constant attention, as it’s in the most crucial stage of its life. As Mike Grgich often said, “Wine is like a baby – you have to care for it!” 

Our wine babysitter Sebastian (don’t worry, he loves it when you call him that) arrives at the winery on his bike early in the morning to beat the California heat, and gets right to sampling.

sebastian sitting at counter with with wine tests

In the spring, our red wines from the previous year’s harvest are undergoing malolactic fermentation, a process that we need to be vigilant about to maintain the style of wine Grgich Hills Estate is known for. So, the bulk of Sebastian’s morning is spent running around from the cellar to the lab, wine thief in hand, making sure that everything is going according to plan. 

Running tests to determine alcohol percentages, residual sugar, acid levels, and more are par for the course in Sebastian’s daily Spring schedule.

Midday – Napa Valley Chardonnay Wine Tasting and Blending

A midday wine tasting – sounds like a treat, right? Well, let us set the stage for this part of the winemaker’s job, and you can decide for yourself.

 

Let’s take Chardonnay as an example – a wine that the team always tastes and blends in the spring. Sebastian and the rest of the winemaking team spend the morning gathering wine samples of the different lots of Chardonnay we’re currently barrel aging. 

Each lot represents a different area of the two vineyards we grow Chardonnay in. Because each area differs in ways that range from slight to dramatic, each lot will express distinct flavors, and the winemaking team must taste each one, identify the flavors, and determine which lots will work best with each other. Then, samples are mixed to create blends, and tasted again.

This year, we have 25 lots – that’s 25 different Chardonnays to try, blend, try again, blend again, until the team reaches a final product they’re content with. The entire process takes weeks for a single varietal – and this is just for our Chardonnay, which is isn’t even blended with other varietals!

The process becomes that much more intense when you’re crafting a Bordeaux blend, with so many different varieties in the mix. By the end of the day’s blending session, Sebastian can barely taste his lunch from the deluge of Chardonnay flavor still engulfing his taste buds. 

Afternoon – The Bottling Bulletin

         If barrel aging is when wine is at its infancy, then bottling is like its high school graduation – congrats, you made it, kid! The now young adults will live at home (our winery) for a few more years while they “figure things out,” before setting off to make it on their own in the big wide world.

Anthropomorphic simile aside, spring is the time to bottle the Sauvignon Blanc harvested the year before, and the Zinfandel harvested two years before. Sebastian likes to end his day surveying the pillars of pallets that have been constructed throughout the day by our steadfast cellar crew, making sure that no issues have come up. 

If everything is all in order, it’s back to the lab with more wine samples to analyze. An evening cleanup ensures everything will be ready for the next day, and with that, Sebastian bikes off into the sunset, content with a day well-spent. 

So, dear reader, having read the ins and outs of a full time winemaker we leave you with one question: Do you have what it takes? 

sebastian standing on barrels with a wine glass in hand