It was July 2004 when I loaded up my car and headed west, to California, to follow a dream. A dream of making wine. Would I turn around and go back? Not on your life.
It has been an incredible journey since then. Like me, you can make the journey into winemaking, if you set your heart on it. This is a glimpse into my journey to becoming a winemaker.
I left a 15-year law-enforcement career to follow a passion for winemaking. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? This ride has been fantastic. I have loved every minute of it and I am reaching for more even as I write this.
Almost immediately on arriving in California, I took a part-time job at a large retail wine store called BevMo (Beverages & More), thinking I would have a chance to run into someone in the wine business who could steer me in the right direction. I became friends with Hal, who ran the Saturday tastings in the back of the store. After a few minutes of conversation, he knew right away that I was serious about my passion. He got me a harvest job at the famous Chateau St. Jean in Sonoma for the 2004 harvest.
I was so excited to be involved with such a prestigious winery for the harvest! I started out working in the cellar but eventually they put me in the lab and I was well on my way to learning how to run critical analysis for grapes, juice, and wine.
Harvest was soon over and Chateau St. Jean offered me a full-time job. They paid for and sent me to some enology college classes at Napa Valley College. I worked for Chateau St. Jean for three years and soon found myself wanting more. I decided it was time to pursue that dream of mine to make my own wine.
I had heard of this place in San Francisco called Crushpad, a custom-crush facility. I attended their open house in May of 2007. I spoke to the head winemaker and told him my plan: to make unoaked Chardonnay. Soon after, I was hired as the Lab Manager for Crushpad and given the opportunity to do more.
finally–My Own Wine!
My passion for making my own wine was the singular driving force that heralded the launch of my first vintage in 2007. Wow! I had done it! I made my own wine! I was the proud owner and winemaker of my own label, Passaggio Wines! Life would never be the same…
Passaggio Wines has since grown to three varietals, and will soon produce four. At this point in 2011, I make Unoaked Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Rose, and soon will add Pinot Noir.
If you have the passion for winemaking, you too can make your own wine. You can start in our basement, as many people do, with supplies and instructions from wine-supply stores in your area or online.
Or if you really have the passion and want to accelerate the process, you can work with a custom-crush facility like Crushpad, where they provide the professional equipment and expert advice. You can get your start, and be as involved as you want in the process, from grape to bottle. You can start with 25 cases, with your own label, and test the market. When you are ready to jump in with both feet, you can produce an inventory and actually sell your wines on the market. You really don’t have to quit your day job (unless you are ready for that move).
All it takes is a little determination, a lot of passion, and, of course, a little ingenuity in finding the financial way to make your dream come true. But then again, doesn’t any investment? Go ahead. If all you’ve been waiting for is someone to tell you “You can do it!”, I am here to tell you — you can do it!
Follow that passion, and see where it takes you. You might just become a winemaker.
Cindy Cosco is founder and winemaker of Passaggio Wines of Sonoma, California, and former manager at Crushpad in Sonoma.
Zenergo for Winemakers!
Another way to get involved in winemaking — or to find others who will join you in your adventure — is to sign up for Zenergo.com (it’s free and pretty simple), and join the Winemaking Activity there. You can spell out your specific interests on the activity’s Interest page, then see if there are other Zenergo members who share your passion — they may want to get together to try making wine, they may already be making wine and would appreciate a helping hand.
You might find winemaking groups you can join, too. Or if you have a winemaking group, bring it onto Zenergo as a one-stop place to manage membership, recruit new members, and keep your calendar, post pictures, documents, and sales sheets. You can create Events for your winemakers to invite those in wine-appreciation activities to come to — and create a mailing list to sell your wines! Zenergo.com is chock full of opportunities for the ambitious winemaker! Take a look right now!