by Lauren Horlock
I love my job as a winemaker. People often say that they are jealous of what I get to do, and I don’t blame them- I get paid to drink wine! Well, sort of…
As a winemaker, the most important tools that I use in the winery are my sense of taste and smell. On a typical morning at work, you can easily find me glass in hand, tasting all of the tanks and barrels of wine.
I like to taste early in the morning because that is when my senses are the sharpest. Occasionally my boss or the vineyard manager will walk in and see me holding a glass of wine at 8:00am. They usually just shake their heads at me, but it never takes long before they too will have a glass in hand and are joining me for a tasting. I bet I am one of the rare employees who are expected to have a corkscrew in my desk drawer.
I regularly taste my wines to look for any issues that may be developing, or to simply decide what I want to do next. When I taste, I first look at the wines clarity: it should be bright and clear in the glass without any haze or particles. The aromatics should be fresh and clean; the taste, pleasantly balanced on the palate. I do a lot of testing with my lab equipment, but the only way I know if a wine is ready to bottle is when I can’t put the glass down.
Some of my favourite wine tasting experiences take place outside of the winery. Last week I was able to take a road trip to my old stomping grounds in Niagara, where I was invited to help judge the prestigious Cuvee wine competition.
At first, I was a little intimidated and worried about attending. I felt a bit like an outsider, being the only County girl among 60 Niagara winemakers, but everyone was very friendly, and curious to know what their little brother wine region was up to. I warned them not to get too comfortable because we are growing fast with 35 wineries to date.
During the cuvee judging I had to (but wasn’t forced to) spend the entire day tasting some of the best wines in Ontario. We started at 8:30am and ended at 5:30 that evening. A total of 260 wines were entered into the competition. I never thought that tasting wine could be so exhausting! I spit out every taste, which I hated to do, but I wanted to be able to remember the experience and I knew it would be tough, even for me, to drink that much wine in one sitting.
During the tasting, I was lucky to sit next to two great winemakers. On my right was the charming winemaker from Peller Estates, Lawrence Buhler, and on my left, Sue Ann Staff, who I was able to chat up about her experiences opening her own winery in Niagara. I could definitely learn a lot from both of these people.
This is just one of the many great events that I am able to experience as a winemaker. I really couldn’t imagine doing any other occupation. Spending my days tasting wine is a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it!