Friday, February 25, 2011

No More Mr. Nice Guy

- by Tricia Renshaw, assistant winemaker

I can’t believe we’ve let Kelby leave again.  Last year, he was off to Marlborough, New Zealand.  This time, he’s gone to Tasmania, the island state of Australia.  We wish we could keep him here, but he has to follow the whisperings of Calliope:  voyage, see, learn.

In the late summer of 2009, Peter received a polite, well-written letter of introduction from this young man who had recently graduated from Harvard.  “My name is Kelby Russell,” he wrote, and he explained that while he was earning his degree in Government with a minor in Economics, he discovered his life’s passions:  food, wine and music.  He indulged his love of music by serving as President and General Manager of Harvard’s Glee Club.  While studying in Italy, however, he realized that it was winemaking, and not a career in Arts Management which called him most profoundly.  Upon graduation, he returned to his hometown, Newark, NY, and he hoped to find some guidance, or perhaps an Intern position, at Fox Run Vineyards.

Peter, of course, invited him to spend a day with us.  We outfitted him with a pair of large rubber boots, and put him to work.  Vintage was under way, and that work was typically chaotic, messy, sticky, and sweat-inducing.
At the end of the day, long after the sun had set, when the pumps and press were cleaned, the crushpad was swept and washed, the hoses coiled, the crusher and must-pump muscled back into their at-rest positions, Peter asked, “So, do you want to come back tomorrow?”  And Kelby emphatically replied, “Oh, yes.  This is what I want to do.”

And he has, with extraordinary aptitude.  He’s blessed with keen sensory skills, and an artistic sensibility which guides him towards recognizing and making beautiful wines. His excellent memory recalls not only details about place—a vineyard’s soil, aspect, climate, story—but myriad aromas and textures of the wines he tasted in those places.  He’s professional, and friendly, driven, and tireless.  Consider the position Kelby held as Harvard’s Glee Club General Manager. Though the work was fulfilling, the job left Kelby with a meager two hours of sleep on an average night.  Nevertheless, he managed all that was asked of him while maintaining excellent grades in a rigorous course of study.  He has the fortitude to slog on through the longest, toughest vintage.  Combine these attributes with his passion, and it’s no wonder he has impressed everyone he’s worked with.   No wonder he has become indispensible here.
In fact, we have a friendly little battle with our neighbors over Kelby and his available time.  He’s the prize in a tug-of-war between Fox Run and Red Tail Ridge, where Nancy and Mike benefit from Kelby’s many talents for a portion of the year.  The rule is:  we get first dibs.  That way, the tussling stays good-natured.  The offers pour in.  “Soooo, Kelby”, someone starts.  And Peter cuts in, “Don’t even think about it.”
Kelby’s wowed not only the winemaking community in the Finger Lakes, but in New Zealand, as well.
Last winter, his odyssey led him to Whitehaven Wine Company in Marlborough.   Due to its location in the Southern Hemisphere, Marlborough’s vintage occurs during our spring.  In typical Kelby fashion, after enduring a grueling ten-week vintage in New York, he rested by cleaning picking bins outdoors in sub-freezing temperatures, topping barrels, monitoring malolactic fermentations, cleaning floor drains, and helping with blending decisions.  Restored, he felt he needed another go at vintage.  So, he filled out applications, and contacted numerous wineries, until he found a good match. 
Despite having learned crushpad operations at our 20,000-case-per-year Riesling-centric winery, Kelby easily transferred his skills to the 200,000-case-per-year Sauvignon blanc-centered winery.  In short order, he was promoted from Harvest Intern to Shift Manager.  No one who knows Kelby was surprised. 

He came back to us in time for summer’s hectic schedule.  He worked in the busy tasting room, on the bottling line, and in the winery.  He was indispensible in pairing food and wine for tapas events and winemaker’s dinners.  He started this blog.  Then it was vintage, and you know how that went—you were there with us.

Now, he’s leaving again.  It’s a bittersweet time.  We’re thrilled for Kelby.  He’s talented, passionate, and young.  He has years to explore winemaking techniques employed throughout the world.  But, we’ll miss him.

In Tasmania, he’ll be working at Pipers Brook, where they specialize in sparkling wine made from Chardonnay and Pinot noir, as well as fine table wines, including Riesling.  It will be a long vintage.  They begin harvest in late March when the grapes for sparkling wine will be ready.  Table wine varieties are brought in through late April, the peak of their dry autumn.   In early May, they tread a nervy line—rain vs. ripeness—as they bring in late-ripening varieties and finally grapes for late-harvest wines.  We hope he’ll have time to write a post or two.  We’d love for him to regale us with tales of his far-flung adventures.  What is certain is that he’ll learn from the experience as much as any person can. Eventually, Kelby will bring his newly-gained knowledge back to the Finger Lakes, but only for a short while.
He plans to earn a second degree—this time in Oenology.  The program he’s considering most seriously culminates with a vintage placement—a daunting proposition for the majority of the students.  Before Kelby enters the program, he will have completed four vintages, fully hands-on, in three countries.  Not too shabby.
Naturally, Peter and I continually ask, “What are we going to do without Kelby?  Especially during vintage.”   We can’t quite image Vintage 2011 without his enthusiasm and single-minded determination, to say nothing of his spectacular meals.

The good news for Kelby is that wherever he goes, he will be successful and his talents will be sought-after.
The good news for us is that Kelby is enamored of cool-climate wines, and although it may be long and sometimes treacherous, his quest will bring him back to the Finger Lakes he loves. 

Music of the Day:

Keith Jarrett - Handel: Suites for Keyboard, "Harpsichord Suite Set I No. 4 in E Minor, HWV 429-1. Fuga"

Support Artists: buy the music you like.

No comments:

Post a Comment