By Ian Consoli
Every year we hire two or three interns during the harvest season to help us manage the 400+ tons of fruit that come through our cellar. Sometimes, one of those interns turns out to be a rock star and we invite them back for a second tour. Such is the case this year, as Kayja Mann has returned for another round after debuting here during the harvest of 2020. Cellar work during harvest, while it’s exciting and rewarding, is also physical and wet, with long, grueling days, so when an individual decides to do it again, I feel obligated to sit down and see where the motivation comes from.
The first thing one notes about Kayja is that she always has a smile on her face. Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi recently supported Kayja from the sideline as she ran a 100k in Lake Tahoe (65 miles!!) and Chelsea noted that her smile at the end of the race was as consistent as any day in the cellar. So, as you can imagine, Kayja brought that same positivity to her experiences in the cellar. She truly is a delight and I can’t wait for you to meet her.
Who are you?
My name is Kayja. I graduated from Cal Poly SLO a year and a half ago. I have been trying a bunch of different jobs and living in various places ever since. I studied business in college. When COVID hit, my plans kind of changed, and I started to form an interest in wine.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Sebastopol, California, so definitely wine country.
Did you form an interest in wine while you were growing up in Sebastopol?
No, not at all. My parents don't drink wine that much. It was all around, but I didn't have much interest at all. My interest in wine started during quarantine when I took a spirituality in wine class at Cal Poly with a couple of my really good friends. The course was online, so we'd get a bottle of wine and go sit on the lawn for class. It provided us a platform to try a bunch of different wines, and we started paying attention to other varietals from different places. The course was really cool because it focused on the spirit of the wine, like if this wine was a location, what location would it be? It was a different way of thinking about wine.
How did that new love of wine lead you to Tablas Creek?
A friend studying enology was planning to do a wine harvest during the fall of 2020. With COVID happening, my plan to go abroad was no longer an option, so I asked her, "Can I do a wine harvest? Could anyone do that?" She said, "Yeah, just apply to a bunch of places." I did, and Tablas Creek was the one I wanted the most because of its regenerative and biodynamic practices. Neil [Collins] was nice enough to get back to me and let me know; sorry, we're all full. Then a couple of days later, he called again to let me know a spot opened up if I still wanted to join. I came out, met everyone, and thought, alright, this is sweet. I'm going to be a part of this group. And I quickly signed on for Harvest 2020.
Right, this is not your first harvest with Tablas Creek. Why did you decide to come back for a second round?
I had such an awesome experience last year. I came in with no background in wine and figured it out with the help of the team. It's such a comfortable environment to work in. Everyone's super supportive and gives you a lot of agency to figure things out on your own. They act as resources if you want to come and ask. That was huge. I really liked the work environment where it's like, take that project and run with it. After that great experience, I thought it'd be cool to come back and build on what I learned last year. Luckily, they welcomed me back.
Do you see a career in wine for yourself?
Last year, it was something fun and different. I honestly didn't know if I would come back because I'm still figuring out what I want to do. But now I am here again. So truthfully, I don't know, but this year I'm coming into it thinking, is this something that I could see myself continuing to do? Maybe I'll have an answer for you at the end of harvest.
How did you hear about Tablas Creek?
I was just trying to find wineries in the area. I looked up something super vague, like sustainable wineries or sustainability wineries in Paso, or maybe biodynamic or regenerative, something along those lines. An article popped up on Tablas Creek, so I went to the website and liked what I saw. I previously worked for Dr. Bronner's, a co-founder of the Regenerative Organic Alliance. I was excited to see another company pursuing that certification process and be here last year when the certification was officially released.
If a genie said you could be head winemaker anywhere in the world at any winery. What would you choose?
That's so tough. I want to say New Zealand, but I think that's just because I want to go there. I know the weather doesn't work for this, but if there was a winery in Steamboat Springs, CO, where I live now, I would love to be a winemaker there.
Best bottle of wine you ever had?
I've been into bubbles recently and really like the Pet Nat from Lone Madrone. But probably the most memorable bottle was a vin jaune from the Jura region. It was funky and floral and definitely stood out because it's just such a different taste.
What's next for you after this harvest?
I'm heading back to Steamboat Springs to hopefully be on ski patrol at the resort there.
Would you rather:
Cake or pie?
I'm going to go with cake. As long as it's not chocolate cake.
Breathe underwater or fly?
Fly, for sure.
New-world wine or old-world wine.
Be a winemaker or a viticulturist?
I don't know enough about what a viticulturist's day-to-day looks like, so I have to go with winemaker.