By Ian Consoli
This upcoming harvest is sure to have a different feel to it, because 2020. And change isn’t always a bad thing. But we were excited to build a little continuity by welcoming 2018’s harvest intern Josie Schneider back to Tablas Creek in a more expanded role. Yes, she’s here for harvest, but she’ll also be helping to fill in for some of the void that will be left while Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi is out on maternity leave. (Congratulations, Chelsea!)
Few of us have a direct path into wine. Josie is no exception. But from the beginning, she was driven by the simple statement, “I want to do that.”
I was fortunate enough to sit down with Josie and hear her story of growing up in Chile on an abalone farm, her experience in beekeeping, and her journey into the cellars of Paso Robles. Read on to learn more about Josie. I’m sure you’ll enjoy getting to know her a little.
Who are you?
Josie: That’s actually a really deep question to start with. I’m Josie Schneider and I am the intern for the 2020 harvest at Tablas Creek. I worked here for the 2018 harvest, did a year at a different winery, and now I'm back. I'm super excited.
Before we dive deeper into you returning, let's get to know you a little bit more. Where did you grow up?
J: I was born in Santiago, Chile. When I was young we moved to La Serena, a little town north of Santiago, where they started an abalone farm. So I grew up on an abalone farm, helping my dad. I lived there until I was 18 and then moved to California to go to Cuesta College, transferred to Cal Poly [San Luis Obispo], and I've been on the Central Coast for seven years.
How did you go from abalone farm to wine?
J: My dad has been abalone farming for about 30 years in Chile, but I never thought I would do anything with it. So I studied parks and recreation, sports management at Cal Poly. I didn’t know if I wanted to work in that field, but I knew I really liked sports and it was a broad education. While there I had a couple of friends that worked at wineries, and my girlfriend, Megan, was an enology major at Cal poly. What they were doing looked super cool, so I was like, I want to do this.
How did you end up working your first harvest at Tablas Creek?
J: My dad and [Winemaker] Neil [Collins] went to college and lived together in Cayucos, CA. I contacted Neil and told him I wanted to work with cider or wine or any fermentation. He happened to be looking for a harvest intern for Tablas Creek so I did an interview and got the job.
It’s not too common for us to bring an intern back for a second round. How did that come about?
J: The last two years I've gone to Northern Patagonia from December to March to help my dad with his beekeeping program that he started about five years ago. At the end of the honey harvest Neil contacted me and mentioned that [Senior Assistant Winemaker] Chelsea is having a baby and they have a lot of work to do at the winery, and he offered to hire me in June. I was super stoked on the opportunity to learn what happens in the cellar before harvest. I have gotten to do a lot of bottling and kind of prepping for fruit to come in.
Do you have any special rituals during harvest to make it through the long days and the hard work?
J: I do. I wake up pretty early in the morning and make myself a tea or coffee and a big breakfast. I lay in bed for a little bit eating breakfast, drinking tea, looking at the news on my phone. It kind of wakes me up. I get to do everything that I want before I have to rush to work and get the day started. You don't know how long your day is going to be. So I like to have that little time before work to hang out and do my thing.
What is the toughest harvest you have ever participated in?
J: I would say definitely my first harvest. This is only my third so my first harvest was here. Tough in a good way, really challenging. Working harvest here, you really have to use your brain, be fast, and just get things done. Definitely a challenge; overcoming being tired all the time, working long hours, it was like this world that I had never seen before. And it was really, really a great experience.
Here you are back for round three.
J: I love it. I'm addicted.
What’s your ultimate goal in cellar work? Where do you want it to take you?
J: Just getting comfortable with everything that happens. Not comfortable in a way that you become stagnant, but comfortable in the sense of being sure of what you're doing. Knowing how things work and getting to know the wines better. I want to get that full cycle of like, okay, we do this when this wine is doing this or it's at this stage and really learning how to work with the wine.
If a genie said you could be head winemaker anywhere you wanted in the world, where would you pick?
J: Can I start my own? I would start a winery in Santa Cruz, Chile, one of the bigger wine regions. I would have a really cool organic, maybe biodynamic, vineyard with bees and animals on the property. It's like 40 minutes away from probably the best surf spot in Chile, [redacted]. It’s an incredible coastline with every kind of wave you would want. So being 40 minutes away from the best wave in Chile, which is saying a lot because Chile he has good waves, being able to start a winery, and making wine would be insane. A total dream.
Are there any wineries in Chile that you consider a favorite?
J: It’s kind of hard to taste there. You have to get an appointment, it's expensive, and they're all really huge wineries. I haven't really been to any small wineries. Clos Apalta is a winery that Megan and I went and toured. We went down into the caves and did a little tasting. I'm hoping this year to go tour the area and get to know Author Wineries (Vines de Autor, a category of winery that's really small, family owned and pretty underground). You really need to find them and get to know the people around the area to get a tasting. That’s the goal for this year. So put a pin on that question. When I come back next year, maybe I’ll have some names.
Best bottle of wine you ever had?
J: That's really hard. Oh my gosh. I mean, Tablas Creek is pretty good! Best bottle I had recently was the Seven Springs Chardonnay from Evening Land up in, I think it's an Oregon. Weston from Bristols [Cider] shared that bottle of wine with us. And I was loving it. It was exactly like what I want from a Chardonnay. Nice and bright and delicious.
What’s next for you?
J: Short term, my dad and I have been talking about the honey harvest in Chile. We’re starting to work on our queen rearing program. The apiaries are on an Island, and there weren’t honeybees on the island before we brought them in so we have full control over the hives. By finding our best genetics in all of our apiaries and creating good queens we won't have to buy queens and risk bringing in, disease, Varroa [a parasitic mite that infests bee colonies], or other things that can be harmful to the colony. We don't use pesticides and we want to get to a point where we don't have to treat for disease either.
Are you doing any bee work with our viticulturist Jordan Lonborg while you are here?
J: Yeah, we have four hives right now and we're just kind of figuring out how we want to organize them. They’re starting to fill up with honey. It's been fun to work with the top bar hives as well. You don't have a foundation so they just layer all of their wax and its super cool to see.
How are you balancing cellar work and bee work?
J: You only check the bees every 10 days and four hives takes about 30 to 45 minutes to check. So whenever we have a little extra time on a Friday or Thursday we check on them.
Would you rather:
Cake or pie?
Breathe under water or fly?
I’m a surfer, so breathe under water. It's just classic.
New world or Old world?
Right now? Old world.
Winemaker or a viticulturist?
Winemaker. Ideally I'd like to do both, but right now that's my main focus; so for now focus on the closer goal, which is wine making.