From Student to “Cellar Rat” to Wanting to be a Winemaker… Over Night!

Introduction by Denise Gardner

I have ask a few students or recent graduates to contribute a few blog posts on their enology and viticulture experiences at Penn State, and how those experiences have influenced their career decisions.  Over the past few years, I have had the pleasure to work closely with undergraduates on various tasks: the NE-1020 variety trial, lectures in classes, student research projects, and much more.  These opportunities provide wine/grape-related experiences to students, and some become interested enough to pursue the field(s) as a career.

This first entry, written by Penn State senior, Brianne Morgan, describes her introduction to winemaking and how it became a career endeavor for her.  I can still remember the first day I met Brianne, and I couldn’t help but smile when she told me that winemaking was “what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.”  She obviously caught the bug!  As you will see from her entry below, Brianne is an incredibly driven student, and it has led her to several industry experiences that have helped shape her into a valuable, educated winemaker that will continue to work in the Pennsylvania wine industry after her graduation.


By: Brianne Morgan

My name is Brianne Morgan and I am a senior majoring in Food Science. I have a love and passion for wine, especially the winemaking process.

I started my winemaking career with an eye-opening lecture and lab session, led by Denise Gardner, in my sophomore Introduction to Food Science class. She spoke about wine closures and we bottled elderberry wine using a manual corker. I was hooked. Immediately after Denise’s lecture, I went to see her and have been an undergraduate research assistant ever since. For me to find such an amazing mentor like Denise has made my experience in the industry that much better. At that point, I started learning as much as I could about enology and viticulture. While most people in wine industry may depict my first encounter with winemaking as the most boring part of wine production, for me it was an exciting adventure that I was ready to embrace.

Oct 2014_Bre_Pic 1

Brianne, during her sophomore year, teaching industry members how to use the olfactometers during the Penn State Extension Wine Quality Improvement (WQI) workshop

My winemaking passion led me to an opportunity to work for three amazing companies during my undergraduate career as a student intern. My first experience was a six-month co-op for Mazza Vineyards in North East, PA.. This was my first harvest experience and it was a real world wind. Looking back, I can see why it is so important to work during a harvest before deciding you want to devote your life to the wine industry! I went from an inexperienced student to a “cellar rat” within a few months. However, I really enjoyed my “growing” experience in Erie because I learned all the foundational basics I am utilizing throughout my entire career as a winemaker. Going into this experience I was very concerned that I would not be able to endure the grueling hard work associated with harvest. However, as the weeks of that first harvest went by, the work became less daunting, and winemaking turned into a life-long career decision.

Co-op experiences at Mazza Vineyards

Co-op experiences at Mazza Vineyards

After spending six months at Mazza Vineyards, I realized I needed to learn more about viticulture to enhance my understanding about where wine originates: the grapes. This led me to my second internship during the summer after my junior year, which was at Penn State’s Lake Erie Regional Grape Research Station. I had the opportunity to work for Bryan Hed and Jody Timer, who taught me a lot about viticulture (the science of growing grapes) and entomology (the science of insects). It was awe-inspiring to see how the Penn State research team and Pennsylvania wine industry worked together to enhance viticulture knowledge within the state.

I also learned quite a bit about “vineyard work” and why it so important in the winemaking process: quality starts in the vineyard, but it extends into the winery. After spending the summer in the vineyard and heading back to Penn State in the fall to continue my undergraduate education, I was itching to do another harvest. With only a year-and- a-half of school to finish I decided to finish school first before completing another harvest. This was very hard decision to make because I have come to love the challenge of each harvest, but I knew I would have more opportunities to experience this in the coming years following graduation. By May, I was eager for another winery experience, and I decided I wanted to try to combine all that I had learned along the way in my next experience. This led me to Franklin Hill Vineyards in Bangor, PA where I had the opportunity to work within a winery created and led by women. . Elaine and Bonnie provided such an amazing work atmosphere for me, and I was able to promote my talents, which gave me the confidence in recognizing many skills I have learned. I had a grand scheme of work experiences at Franklin Hill including vineyard, cellar, and retail work, which, to be honest, I was quite nervous about. It is quite a challenge to wear so many hats within the winery. However, working in retail allowed me to connect with costumers and understand what they see in wine. As a winemaker, it is easy to sometimes forget consumer expectations while the work is confined to the cellar. Working with Bonnie in the cellar was a true learning experience that I will cherish and never forget.

Racking and bottling wines from the 2013 NE-1020 vintage

Racking and bottling wines from the 2013 NE-1020 vintage

I am confident that all of my internships and research experiences have led me to this point in my life in which I recognize that I would not be the person I am today without all of the people I have had the pleasure of working with throughout my college experiences. For that, I am truly grateful.

As a graduating senior I often get asked the question: “What will you be doing after graduation?” After having the privilege of spending some time in the wine industry, I really enjoy everything it has to offer and would like to contribute my knowledge to the Pennsylvania wine industry. With that being said, after receiving my degree I will be continuing my love for wine, and have accepted an Assistant Winemaker position at Franklin Hill Vineyards. Additionally, as I recognize the importance of gaining winemaking insight from outside of the Pennsylvania region, I am working to do a “harvest hop” to the southern hemisphere in the winter months of 2015. I am hoping that this experience will enhance my understanding of winemaking even further, and know that I can bring back what I learn to apply to my position held in Pennsylvania. I am excited to begin this new chapter of my life, and cannot wait to continue with the growing Pennsylvania wine industry.

Oct 2014_Bre_Pic 2

Brianne making up the first yeast inoculations for the 2014 NE-1020 harvest and helping with other wine/grape-related research projects


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: