Friday, December 10, 2010

The Torturous Path

Hi there, blog fans. 

I’m back from the fantasy world that we like to call the monthly Bulk Inventory Report, and I have to confess that I am thrilled to have the paperwork part of my job done for a few weeks.  While it’s important to regularly keep an eye on volumes and the whereabouts of our wines, what this exercise really does is inspire a nearly rabid desire to get my hands dirty.  

In truth, the extraordinary variability of this job is one great aspect of making wine for a living.    

When I’m asked how I found winemaking as a career, I’m forced to sheepishly admit that I was that kid –the one who had no clear direction in life.  Most of my friends knew by mid-way through high school that they wanted to be doctors or lawyers or teachers, but I was never sure.  I liked elements of every job, but could never pick one path without fearing that I would feel trapped or that I would miss out on an integral part of who I should be.  I kept thinking that surely by the time I was a senior, I would know what I wanted to do.  I was wrong.  

After high school, I spent a year in Belgium as an exchange student—plenty of time to figure out my future.  Unfortunately, aside from realizing that the world is both bigger and smaller than I had ever imagined, and that I love to experience other cultures, cuisines, and languages, I had not come to any useful conclusions.  

Enter college.  Freshman year, I was a math/computer science major.  I poured myself into AP Calculus, Pascal (it was a long time ago), and Number Theory.  Sophomore year, I became an art major.  Pause a second, and imagine that conversation.  “Hi, Mom and Dad!  Guess what?  I dropped math, and I’m taking art.”  Junior year, I transferred to a local college (no need to drive to Indiana to take art classes, dearie).  By the second semester, I’d had enough art, and took off to France for a semester abroad (OK, so maybe they had a point).  Senior year, panic set in.   Still no reason to believe that I was meant to do anything in particular, yet I had a strong hunch that I was, and I couldn’t guess what that might be.  

I didn’t think I had the patience and tenacity to teach (I was right—teaching is a gift, and I don’t have it).  I couldn’t imagine crunching numbers inside an office for more than three consecutive days.  Art was too fleeting—what if I lost my muse?  Or worse—what if an art director wanted to change something in my work?  I considered science, because I enjoyed that so much, but doing what?  Biology and chemistry were fun, but I didn’t believe I’d find myself in a lab coat.  I was fascinated by astronomy, but everyone, and I do mean everyone I told, said “No way—you can’t make a living watching stars, even if it is interesting.”   Astronaut was out—I’m afraid of heights, and I’m claustrophobic. 

Actually, I wasn’t claustrophobic until I went to Belgium.  My class (teacher and all) took a senior trip via bus to Czechoslovakia.  On our way home, we stopped in Germany to walk through a concentration camp.  It was a holding camp rather than a death camp, and we were treated to the agonizing experience of being closed inside a holding cell.   There were approximately 70 people crushed inside the cell, and I was toward the back of the crowd.  Our guide explained that there was typically twice that number of people interred in these cells when the camp was in use.  He looked in at us from outside the doorway and said, “There was no way to sit down, or lie down.  People relieved themselves in place.”  He gave us a moment to think about that, then concluded, “Many died and were held upright by the sheer number of bodies.”  He swung the heavy door shut and locked it.  The reality of 70 people in that cell was terrible.  140 people in that cell would be unimaginable.  I clawed my way to the front of the crowd and pushed furiously and fruitlessly against the door.  That moment will never leave me.  

That experience made me a more considerate person.  I’m careful to treat people well, because even on a small scale, it matters.  

It also left me a high-functioning claustrophobe.  I hadn’t fully ruled out astronaut until I returned from my year abroad, but it was definitely off the list.

So, there I found myself, well past the age when I was sure I would know what I wanted to do with my life, and I had still not found my way.  With graduation looming in the all-too-near future, I had to force a decision. A perusal of my résumé and a visit to my advisor indicated that my major had to be French to graduate on time.  

I finished up my Lit classes (17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th Century French Literature—loved every minute of it, not kidding), and was loosed upon the world.  

By the time I had graduated from college I had collected a long list of things I didn’t want to be.  I soothed myself by repeating over and over, “It’s OK.  Finding out what you don’t want to do is nearly as good as figuring out what you do want to do.”  Nearly being the key word, of course.  

I knew I could make a living, because I liked so many things well enough, and I was lucky enough to be good at most of it.  I ended up working in a bank—I really liked the idea of money, and my math, language and culture skills were sought-after by the international banking department.  

Life unfolded, and my career, such as it was, gave way to motherhood.  What a gift my girls are.   What a gift staying home to raise them was.  

In the course of things, I discovered wine, and eventually winemaking as a career possibility.  It’s funny, I wasn’t even looking, and I found exactly what I was meant to do:  raise these two girls, and make wine in the Finger Lakes.  

August 2, 2005, Peter interviewed me for my first winemaking position (on the bottling line).  He said “You can’t be claustrophobic, or afraid of heights.”  I am not making this up.  I told myself, “Well, I’m both, but for this job, I won’t be either.”  And it hasn’t been a problem.  

He also said, “You won’t make a fortune making wine, at least not in this part of the world. But,” he went on, “for those people who are truly passionate about making wine, job satisfaction is off the chart.”  

Was he ever right!

I went from that kid, the one who couldn’t imagine doing anything for a lifetime, to that woman, that winemaker, who can’t imagine doing anything else.  

Every day, I use math, and science, and art, and my creativity.  I work alone some of the time, and in collaboration most of the time.  The work can be physical and demanding or slow and even tedious at times (yes, bulk inventory, I’m invoking you).   I pour my passion into the wines we make, as do Peter and Kelby.  

I do a job I love, with people I admire wholeheartedly, for a company we are all so proud to say we belong to.  

Sure, I took the long route, but it was the road that led me home.

Smiles From Above
The Chesire Cat has nothing on Tricia.

By: Tricia Renshaw, Assistant Winemaker

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