The pursuit and mastery of enology doesn’t start or end in the vineyard. For Colleen FitzGerald, enologist at Pine Ridge Vineyards in the Stags Leap District American Vineyard Appellation in Napa, enologists need sharp taste buds, long conversations with their winemakers and a heftily stamped passport to prove they have what it takes to become a master in their field.
“I’m scheduled to go to France in June,” she says. “And after the harvest season ends, we’ll be busy seeing what all of our hard work over the harvest season produced. We will start holding blending sessions where the winemaker, assistant winemaker and I taste the vintage lots by AVAs and decide on the final blends. There’s so much more to enology than studying the chemistry of wine.”
This isn’t FitzGerald’s first harvest. She was named Pine Ridge’s enologist in 2015, but she spent several years before that in Paso Robles while earning her biochemistry degree at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. “Wine wasn’t my original idea when I started my biochem major,” she says. “But as I received more exposure in the relationship between chemistry and wine, I realized there was something I enjoyed about the seasonal nature of enology; you’re never chained to an office or laboratory. A lot of the work involves walking in the vineyards, taking samples and testing grapes and wine for sugar content, acidity and other variables. Then, we combine all of that information to make the trial blends, which eventually make it to the bottling and labeling stage. It’s very exciting work, all year-round.”
With more experience at the vineyard comes more responsibility. This is the first year FitzGerald is in charge of the winery’s Chenin Blanc + Viognier program. “The program is important to winery,” she says. “It is an unique blend and has proven to be one of the most popular through its 20 year run. The trust they put in me to continue to innovate with the program drives me to do my job well. It’s an exciting and wonderful way to apply my experience in enology to create the best blend imaginable.”
For aspiring enologists and students looking for their edge in the industry, FitzGerald says the most important thing to look at is the potential relationship between you and the winemaker. “There’s nothing better for your growth than spending a harvest as a winery intern. You get to ask the winemakers why they prefer to do things their way, creating a toolbox of techniques to carry with you through your career. Showing your initiative and attention to detail gets you a long way in this industry.”
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