So for those of you who may not know me, my name is Chris Albin and I am a young winemaker. My passion is wine and my goal is to share that with you. In my opinion wine is a beautiful thing; it’s a form of art that can paint pictures of different scents and flavors unlike any other craft we know of. However, unlike art that is produced with paint, stone, steel, film or sound, there is an undying mystery to wine. Not only is wine an art form that engages our senses, wine-making is a science that is not and probably will not ever be fully understood. And that pursuit of knowledge and that constant challenge of understanding the wine-maker’s paintbrush is my passion; hopefully I can include you in that pursuit of knowledge through this blog.
But what’s my story? Every wine-maker has a story that leads them to wine-making and I am no different. I decided I liked wine when a girl I had a crush on told me it was sexy when a guy knew a lot about wine. Overnight, wine was my new thing. However, I didn’t know how much this was going to snowball- my entire life I had always found food and flavors interesting and had always appreciated the art of good food and drink, so when I was exposed to this, a new passion exploded. That passion quickly became a love for all artisanal beverages and that love has always been with me since.
Oh, in case you were wondering. Nothing ever happened with the girl. (Disappointing, right?)
When I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a degree in International Studies and Marketing, I decided I wanted to import wine. It simply seemed to make sense, I had always loved to travel and I loved wine, so importing seemed like the right move. I met with importers in St. Louis, asked them about their jobs and found out wine importing is/was as one importer put it, a “balls to the wall sales job”, so I quickly made the decision to try to become a salesman.
The salesman experiment lasted about 3 months. After WashU (the nickname of my Alma Mater) I packed up all my stuff and headed out to the wonderful town of Chicago to work sales for Careerbuilder.com. The city of Chicago was amazing, there were street festivals, celebrations in Grant Park, public concerts, culture at every corner, great food, great bars, clubs and a beautifully unique rustic urban architecture. However, working sales in Chicago was a different matter. Salesmen for careerbuilder.com had the delightful opportunity to be cooped up in a sales floor in a flood of cubicles in which each sales representative would have to cold call businesses up to 150 times a day trying to round up new clients for the company. The work was emotionally challenging and grueling. Rejection became a daily part of life and the few people I could get to listen to me, I felt like I had to lie to in order to meet the expectations that were placed on me. I immediately began looking for a way out, and eventually I found CAEP- Communicated for Agriculture- Education Programs, a program that would help me land my first winery job. (Ironically, I found the program on careerbuilder.com)
My first winery job was not glamorous. Somehow I got the idea that I would be sitting on a hillside swirling a glass, tasting it to see if it was ready, kneading the wines and playing with barrels all the time. If only. I drove down to Stone Hill Winery in Missouri because all the California placements had been taken and quickly became Tank Cleaning Monkey #2. For those of you not familiar with the art of cleaning tanks, it’s not terribly exciting. You spray item X, then probably scrub and then spray item Y, rinse, and if you did a bad job, repeat. However, as far short of my expectations the romance of the job was, it was probably one of the best experiences of my life. I was inspired that by hard work and a little of bit of know-how, we could make delicious art. I decided that while I may not want to sell wine, I could definitely see myself making it.
However, I wanted a faster way out. I found that by working in the cellar I was picking up wine-making quite slowly. I still remember the winemakers walking around the big blue machine that filled up with cake-like stuff complaining about how a protein had gotten caught in the membrane. I had no idea what that meant, and I knew I was a long way from finding out, so I decided I had to go back and do the whole wine-maker education. It was then that I finally made my way to California and my life as a winemaker and not just an intern truly began. (And by the way, today, I know what the big blue thing was and what was wrong)
Fresno State is where I was educated as a winemaker and I feel very blessed by the education that I received there. I made it a point to learn every last thing I could there. I was never willing to be anything short of great and walked out of the school, proud, excited and cocky, thinking that I had learned enough to set me up to become part of the upper echelon of wine-makers. But of course, I was dead wrong. As much as I felt I had learned, there was infinitely more left to learn and the California landscape was littered with talented wine-makers who had truly honed their craft. I found that once I was in the field I was slowly re-educating, modifying, supplementing and building off of my base of knowledge I had learned at Fresno State.
And that’s where we are today. I’m not silly enough to think that my knowledge is complete. It never will be and the field is filled with geniuses who will always have something new to share. So now my life’s goal is to pursue those lessons that the fruit, the vineyards, and my colleauges have to teach me. However, I don’t want to keep these lessons to myself. That’s the purpose of this blog. Every lesson learned will be common knowledge and everything I have learned over my internships, my wine-making, my education and my independent study are all here for the common wine consumer, so that the common drinker, can be just as bit as educated in winemaking as myself, someone who’s devoted his life to the craft. Read along friends, and together, hopefully will unlock many of this treasure’s hidden secrets.