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When I first started at Markham twenty-four years ago, I was hired as the enologist. The question I was most often asked was, “What is an enologist?” Technically, an enologist is a wine chemist. Roughly said, enology is the study of what happens inside the winery and viticulture is the study of what happens outside, in the vineyards. The enologist position has been filled here at the winery by several individuals since my promotion to winemaker. They have all become life-long friends and have moved on to other positions in the industry. A few have become winemakers, others have moved successfully into careers as sales representatives where their winemaking knowledge gives them a huge step up, and others have gone back to school. Bringing someone into our winemaking family takes time. James Coughlin, my associate winemaker, and I went through an extensive search to find our newest enologist - Tyler Kirby.

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Our new enologist, Tyler, working in the lab. 

Tyler attended the University of California, Davis, and received his degree in Enology and Viticulture a few years ago. As a California native, his enthusiasm is what made us realize he would be the perfect fit here at Markham. Over the past several years you might have seen him laboring in the Livermore Valley where he was working in the cellar and developing his talents. While it’s true that working in the laboratory is new to him, he’s taken to keeping me organized and I couldn’t be happier! James and I are looking forward to his youthful spirit and energy keeping us on our toes. If you ever book a tour at the winery, be sure to give Tyler a wave if you see him in the lab!

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Lots of sampling and testing going on in the lab at this time of year.

My biology degree gave me an understanding of science, but I was lucky enough to be trained in the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars laboratory by my good friend, Françoise Peschon, way back when I started out in the wine industry. She taught me the importance of cleanliness, precision and reasoning while working both in the winery and laboratory. As new enologists come into our lab here at Markham, I only hope that I give them the necessary background they need to understand what it is exactly they are doing, why they are doing it, and how it helps us make decisions for making better wine. During harvest, processing grape samples allows us to make daily picking decisions. Post-harvest, monitoring the completion of all the fermentations (both alcoholic and malolactic) helps get our wines into barrels. At this time of the year, there is much activity putting together tastings that accompany upcoming bottlings as well as keeping our bottling line active with tank preparation.
 

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Everyone needs to know how to build a barrel! Our supplier gave us a hands-on lesson recently.

In Europe, most of the winemakers actually use the title of ‘oenologist.’ Some of the universities there have been teaching winemaking and viticulture for over 500 years! In wine growing regions around the world, there are usually small working wineries located on university campuses where enology and viticulture are taught. The university instructors not only teach theory, but work hard to give their students practical winemaking skills and the necessary mechanical expertise they will need in their jobs. New discoveries and techniques are discussed and researched, often with support from their local wineries, to find answers to questions & solutions to problems as they arise. Regardless of the title – winemaker, vineyard manager or just wine enthusiast – there will always be continuing education classes available to help all of us keep up with the changes in our fast paced industry.

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Winemaker Kimberlee being shown how barrels are built by Yuri.

It was just such an event that I recently attended with my cellar master, Robert, and new enologist, Tyler, to teach us a bit more about barrels. Yuri DeLeon, my Cooperages 1912 representative, invited me and my staff to attend OAK 360. Industry professionals were walked through what it takes to ‘grow’ a barrel. We saw how oak trees were harvested sustainably. This was followed by a Skype session with the mill in Missouri to show exactly how much care goes into creating consistency in each and every barrel. Then some of us were brave enough to try our hand at building our own barrel. I don’t think any of us will be trading the cellar or vineyards for a spot at a cooperage any time soon, but it’s always nice to learn something new after 20+ years on the job. - Winemaker Kimberlee Nicholls

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