The 2021 harvest winds down as it began, with outstanding quality but low yields
Paso Robles is Insanely Beautiful Right Now, Fall Edition

When All Roads Lead to Regenerative Organics: An interview with Tablas Creek's Harvest 2021 Interns

By Ian Consoli

Tablas Creek has a highly competitive harvest internship program every year. We receive multiple applications, and typically only two are selected to harvest alongside the regular cellar team. This harvest was particularly competitive as it marks the first Regenerative Organic Certified™ grape harvest in history. (You can read more about the significance of this event in this blog post by Viticulturist Jordan Lonborg from 2020).

So who did we select? I took the time this week to sit down with two individuals inspired by the promise of regenerative organics. Jennifer (Jenny) Wootten I know well, as we have worked together in the tasting room since she came on as a barback in 2019. Lauren Danna I have gotten to know as this harvest has progressed. Both are inspiring young women who have worked hard all harvest and are beginning to set their sights on their future. One, preferably, involving Regenerative Organic Certified.

I can't wait for you to meet them.

Who are you?

Jenny

I'm Jenny Wootten, and I'm a harvest intern at Tablas Creek.

Lauren

I'm Lauren Danna, and I am also a harvest intern at Tablas Creek for the 2021 harvest.

Jennifer Wootten and Lauren Danna sorting grapesJenny and Lauren on the sorting table

Where did you grow up?

Jenny

I grew up in San Diego, California, in a community called Scripps Ranch.

Lauren

I am from Yuba City, California, a smaller rural town in Northern California.

 

When and how did you get into wine?

Jenny

I got into wine in high school. My interest was piqued on drives through wine country. I had a mixture of interests in culinary arts, chemistry, and biochemistry. I ended up going to Cal Poly [San Luis Obispo] for wine and viticulture and stayed in the wine industry afterward.

Lauren

My interest started my junior year of junior college when I was living in Florence, Italy. I majored in Agriculture Business and was exposed to wine through a culture of wine class based on the Italian region that I was living in. That's where it sparked.

 

Is this your first grape Harvest?

Lauren

This is my first grape harvest.

Jenny

This is my second grape harvest, and my first one was in 2019 at Adelaida.

 

How did you hear about Tablas Creek?

Lauren

I heard about Tablas Creek through a simple web search. I am really interested in regenerative organics. So one day, I searched "regenerative organic wineries," and Tablas came up everywhere. I did a bit more research and happened to know some people that worked here, so I reached out to them, they filled me in, and I decided to apply.

Jenny

I've been working in the tasting room at Tablas Creek since May of 2019. One of my friends was an officer of the Vines and Wines club on campus, and she made an announcement that Tablas Creek was looking for other bar backs. I wanted to get more involved in the industry, so I started bar backing and eventually started pouring in the tasting room. I graduated this May with more of an interest in production and working in the cellar. So I thought I would go for it and see if they would have me as a harvest intern in the cellar to get a little more exposure.

Jenny in the CellarJenny Wootten in the cellar (Photo: Heather Daenitz)

How did you end up working harvest with us?

Lauren

After speaking with the couple of people that I knew, I connected with Neil and Chelsea. They were interested in hiring me. The timing worked out with when my lease in Denver, Colorado, ended. The stars seemed to align, so here I am doing a harvest!

Jenny

I reached out to Chelsea and asked if they were still hiring interns, and they ended up giving me an interview. They let me know they would be happy to have me on. They have helped me learn more about our production process, which is particularly interesting because I have been talking about the production process in the tasting room for a long time. It's an entirely different thing to experience it firsthand.

 

What routines do you have after long days to prepare for the next day?

Jenny

I like to meet up with friends after work and grab a beer or a cider. Then I go home, shower, and unwind, and try to fall asleep before 10:30.

Lauren

If there's still sunlight when I get home, I like to do something active because it helps me reset. If not, I'll go home, shower, and get prepped for the next day. Like Jenny said, trying to get to bed before 10 or 10:30, but that doesn't seem to happen too often. I feel like I always think I have time to get things done after work, and all of a sudden, I was supposed to be in bed an hour ago.

 

What has been your best memory from harvest 2021?

Lauren

Within my first two weeks here, I was helping fill barrels, and I was unfamiliar with the equipment I was using. On the little remote, there's a knob where you control the speed, zero is slow, and 10 is fast. We're filling a barrel, and I'm watching to make sure we fill it all the way to the brim. My coworker, Kayja, left me for just a second, and suddenly I realized it was getting full. She says, stop it. And instead of turning it to 0, I turned it to 10, and wine goes everywhere, spouting three to four feet up. I was drenched in wine.

Lauren in the CellarLauren Danna examining a tank (Photo credit: Heather Daenitz)

Jenny

A week before I was supposed to start working full-time as a harvest intern, I came in at 7am to work in the cellar before my tasting room shift. That might be one of my favorite harvest feelings because I was so excited to get into it. I got to load a press and do a bunch of other stuff. It was just super fun because I missed the cellar a lot.

 

How does it feel to be a part of the first Regenerative Organic Certified™ grape harvest ever?

Lauren

It's awesome. It's so exciting. Every day I am in disbelief. Especially because that's what initially attracted me to the winery. Seeing the cellar side of it and how it translates into the wine, not just the growing. It's awesome. And I'm so fortunate. It's been a really great experience.

Jenny

My excitement about Tablas Creek being the world's first Regenerative Organic Certified™ winery has been built up through working here for so long. I really want to pursue advocating for the spread of Regenerative organics in the wine industry. Being a part of this harvest has helped me build a passion and excitement for moving forward in my career.

 

What's your ultimate goal in cellar work?

Jenny

My ultimate goal in cellar work is to become more comfortable with all the heavy machinery and processes. In your first harvest, it's overwhelming when you're working with a lot of the new equipment. In your second harvest, it's still overwhelming because you don't use a lot of it most of the year and have to refresh on everything. As someone who wants to pursue winemaking as my future, my goal is to be comfortable in the cellar.

Lauren

I don't really know what my future holds in a cellar. Similar to Jenny, my goal is to continue becoming more familiar with the equipment we use.

 

If a genie said you could be head winemaker anywhere, where would you pick?

Jenny

I think Sardinia or Southern Italy. Before, I would've said Northern Italy because I think Italian reds are really cool. I love the structure they have, the brightness, acidity, and ageability. But recently, I've become a lot more familiar with Southern Italian and Mediterranean island-based wines, like Corsica and Sardinia. Working in that more Mediterranean circle in a unique environment would be super cool.

Lauren

No winery in particular, but a winery up in the Northern region of Italy. I just fell in love with the region when I lived there, and I just love the area and the people and the culture.

Jenny

And a place that follows regenerative organics.

Lauren

Yeah!

 

Best bottle of wine you ever had?

Lauren

2019 Tablas Creek Counoise! It reminds me of when I lived in Italy and had some Chiantis that I said, I can never part ways with this, but I'm going to have to, because I won't live here forever. I've really learned to love how we make wine and the style here, and it was so new. Definitely my favorite as of right now.

Jenny

I am really into trying new bottles from all over the world from different producers, so that's pretty tough. One bottle that is most memorable for me is this 2016 Madiran Malbec/Tannat blend. I think about it somewhat regularly, which is kind of nerdy, but I'm okay with that.

 

What's next for you?

Jenny

Within the next year, I'm going to start the OIB Masters of Science and Wine Management based out of the University of Montpelier. I need to learn French for it, which is a little daunting right now, but that's okay. Before that, I'm waiting for a couple Southern hemisphere opportunities to come about, possibly doing a viticulture internship.

Lauren

This is the question I asked myself pretty regularly. I'm not really sure what's next. I want to try so many other things, and maybe another harvest is in the cards, but that's another year away. I know that I want to be a part of some sort of production moving forward, although not necessarily grapes. I do plan to continue to be involved in Regenerative Organics. However that may be, I'm not sure, but that's kind of where my head is right now with the future.

 

Would you rather:

Fly or breathe underwater?

Jenny

I would rather fly because I'm a terrible swimmer.

Lauren

Fly so I could get to places so much faster, and I could just go whenever I want.

Cake or Pie?

Lauren

Pie

Jenny

Cake

 Old World wine or New World wine?

Jenny

Old World

Lauren

Old World

Be a winemaker or a viticulturist?

Jenny

Winemaker

Lauren

Viticulturist

Jennifer Wootten and Lauren Danna

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