Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Team Behind the Scenes

During my time spent at Hanzell Vineyards, I was able to learn from various members of the staff about what it takes to form a winery. Most of us know we need a winemaker, but there are many other positions that are very important for a successful, functioning winery.

Michael McNeill is the head Winemaker at Hanzell Vineyards. He has been there for only five years, but has already left his print on their wines. He started off his career being a chemist. He was later introduced to the art and science of winemaking and fell in love. This is definitely an industry that requires much chemistry, and I think everything fell into place for him after that. The duties of a winemaker don't only include that of winemaking, however, there is also a heavy public relations responsibility. McNeill is seen as the face of Hanzell. He does a lot of traveling, hosts many dinners at the winery, and is constantly being interviewed and photographed. So besides being a scientist and mathematician, one must also have great people skills for this position.

Lynda Hanson is the Associate Winemaker at Hanzell. She is McNeill's left hand woman. They function in a venn diagram format, where she has her duties, he has his, and they overlap each other when necessary. She takes care of day to day tasks like keeping track of when malolactic bacteria needs to be added, or when the barrels need to be topped off. She also manages the lab analysis. Lynda went to UC Davis and was the first woman to receive their internship to study wine in Burgundy. She has spent many years working in Bordeaux and Argentina. Lynda affectionately says that her favorite part of working harvest is the interns!

Jean Arnold-Sessions is the President of Hanzell Vineyards. She is married to Bob Sessions who was the winemaker there for over 30 years. She is a force to be reckoned with! She has a strong background in high end marketing and has been able to combine that with her work at Hanzell. I met with her last week to get some advice from such a strong, established female in the wine industry.

Jose Ramos is the Vineyard Manager at Hanzell. He has worked there for over 30 years, he lives on the property, and even has a vineyard planted in his honor. Jose has many different duties depending on which time of the year it is. In the beginning of the season, he is in charge of the pruning process. Pruning is one of the most important tasks because it determines how the vines will grow. He is also in charge of irrigation, manages the pickers during harvest, and overall maintenance of the vineyard.

Cesar Ramos is the son of Jose and is the Production Assistant. He works directly under Lynda and McNeill. They often joke that Cesar is their secret weapon, as he is always a step ahead of everyone else. Cesar grew up on the vineyard, or in a vine as we like to say. He oversees all aspects of winemaking, from vineyard sampling to harvest, from barrel to blending. He plays a large role at Hanzell and also assisted me greatly during my internship there.

Judy is the Director of Operations. Her role is a bit complex, because she sometimes has two jobs. When the owner of the estate, Aex DeBrye is in town from London, she acts as his liaison and personal property manager. While she is managing his personal estate, she is also managing Hanzell as a business. Her duties include human resources, property upkeep, overall maintenance, and hiring, as she reports directly to the President.

Jim is the Cellar Master at Hanzell Vineyards. He worked for Domain Chandon for 20 years and Domain Carneros for 10. He is a master of sparkling wine. He has also spent many years working harvest is Australia, where he recalls fondly his first and favorite harvest. Jim also lives on the property and finds himself wearing many different hats. He most often is maintaining the cellar and preparing wine for shipping. He plays a major role during harvest and lends a hand wherever it is needed.

Chris is the Director of Direct to Consumer Operations. Direct to Consumer is a huge part of our winery which encompasses tastings, club members, and online sales. Direct to Consumer relates to any sales in which there is no middle man or third party. Thus it is referring to the sales made from the winery straight to the consumer. Sales have changed drastically over the years, as long ago salespeople were hesitant to suggest a product for purchase whereas now we are openly trying to create new ways to make purchasing convenient for the buyer. Chris has experience in Restaurant and Hotel Management. Direct to Consumers is a booming part of wineries and requires experience in sales, business, and public relations.

As you can see, there is more to the function of a winery than solely winemaking. It requires many different team members to create a successful and authentic footprint in the industry. These positions represent the different roles in the estate, but there are also many other areas in the industry to consider in the three tier system such as distributing and retail. The world of wine is limitless and the beauty of it is that change is encouraged. There is much room for growth, and you can easily go from one area of the industry to another.

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