From OSU to the Cellar Floor- Three OSU Grads Take Charge at Alexana Winery
It’s a sunny Thursday at Alexana winery in Newberg, Oregon. Bryan, Jamie, and Matt gather in the lab to explore new software designed to track blending, lab analysis and winemaking, allowing the team to spend less time on administration and more time in the vineyard and the winery. This is just one challenge this crew of OSU alumni share. They also share a passion for wine, which guided them through Oregon State University and eventually landed them at Alexana.
Job descriptions vary in any profession. In the wine industry, they serve as a loose guide rather than a hard and fast standard, making flexibility a necessary skill. This team of three navigates everything from tasting grapes with their vineyard manager to discussions with the consulting winemaker. So what is a “typical day” for the folks at Alexana Winery?
As the Cellar Master, Matt Stickle’s job follows the seasonality of production. He monitors temperatures and closures; starting and ending each day by checking tank lids, bungs, and temperatures of tanks and the barrel bays, while also cleaning and gathering samples for experimental wines and lab analysis. Matt utilizes a vine-to-wine philosophy, similar to what researches follow at OSU. He participates in each step of the process; following the grapes from the vineyard to a finished wine being shipped off for storage gives him a sense of satisfaction. “Developing the wine from vine to bottle and sharing the finished product with our consumers gives me a sense of great accomplishment.”
Matt also enjoys the connections he has made with other industry members, and the brainstorming and ideas that are generated by working with them. “There are countless ways to make wine. Discussing different methods with other production people, you learn so much about what has worked, and what we wish had worked.”
As the enologist, Jamie Rauch monitors quality and follows the grapes from vine to finished wines. Her focus changes depending on the time of year and the stage of the wine’s evolution. Jamie chose to develop expertise working in a lab because she states: “I love the precision, organization, and attention to detail necessary to run a successful lab, and the sensory side of monitoring wines is fascinating. Every decision we make boils down to using our sensory skills to make the final decision on what a wine needs.” Her days are never dull – the flexibility of her position gives her the opportunity to gain experience in every aspect of winemaking. She’s gone from driving a forklift to pouring wines for consumers in the tasting room. Jamie also appreciates having Bryan as a mentor. He facilitates a learning environment where all are gaining experience and trying to make the best possible wines every day.
As the winemaker, Bryan Weil’s day begins with blending, tasting, writing work orders, doing compliance/tracking, observing vineyards, doing lab work, travelling, conducting consumer tastings/wine events, and all of the other day-to-day winemaking jobs. His work also includes lots of cleaning, troubleshooting/fixing equipment, and physical labor. In the tasting room, Bryan enjoys interacting with customers and discussing the wine. He is immensely passionate about the rigors and dedication necessary to produce quality wine. He spends time in the vineyard and consults with the vineyard manager to ensure quality grapes for his wine, and that dedication transcends into the lab and the cellar.
The pressure and quest for perfection challenges Bryan. “We only have one chance to make these wines. We can’t remake the wines again if we make mistakes. OSU provided me with scientific and practical knowledge to ensure I have the best chance possible to make a quality product year after year,” he says.
Another vine that weaves this team of three together is the connections they have to the Oregon and worldwide wine industry and their fellow OSU grads. Bryan states: “It is amazing to me how many OSU alumni are in the Oregon and Washington wine industries and all over the world. I am fortunate to have a group of OSU alumni that I keep in contact with and conduct tasting groups with. We discuss everything from vineyards, winemaking, and the business of making and selling wine. It’s great to get everyone together because of all of our different experiences we have had in the industry, but at the same time we all came from the same great university in the beginning of our wine careers.” This built-in network has been instrumental in the success of these former students.
Because, after all, networking is everything.