Experience working a harvest in Napa

Hello,

I'm interested in working a harvest in Napa this Fall. I was hoping to hear from a few people who have done this in the past. What did you think of the experience? Were you able to make some good industry connections? Was it the experience you expected?

I'm not currently in the wine industry, but am seeking to make a career switch. I'd be leaving my full-time job in order to do a 3(ish) month harvest internship, so I'd like to get as much intel as I can before making that decision.

You can either respond to this post or email me at ng.michelle.t@gmail.com. I'd love to chat! Thank you.

  • I think there are better ways to make industry connections than 14+ hour days cleaning in a cellar. That said, I've loved the harvests I've worked, and will be doing another one this year to continue learning the process and decision making that goes into making wine. It's hard, honest work, and there's something special about being on hand to watch and smell and taste grapes as they ferment.

    May I ask, why Napa?
  • In reply to Jeremy Eubanks:

    Hi Jeremy, Thanks for your response. I'm looking at Napa since there appears to be the most internships available there. Would you suggest a different location?
  • In reply to Michelle Ng:

    No, no. I wasn't insinuating anything. I was just curious what about Napa drew you in.
  • One thing I would add is that if you are looking for a good intern position, you should've already have been looking and talking to wineries. As an example, our first intern who will be managing the lab etc. started today.

    With absolutely no experience your role will most likely be one of cleaning at most wineries. Cleaning tanks, barrels, bins, floors you name it. There will be a lot of fun times, and you will learn things you didn't know for sure, but grunt work will be the norm.

    Best of luck.
  • In reply to Jason Heller:

    Don't know about Napa, but there seem to be a ton of openings unfilled still in the PNW. Granted, the wineries that even come close to dreaming about the reputation of yours were filled in January. I've just heard grumblings from smaller producers of a labor shortage this year, and even some of the large scale guys like Hogue and St. Michelle have public postings on job boards still. I sort of wonder what's going on.

  • Tons of harvest based positions still available on WineJobs.com

    www.winebusiness.com/.../

    Good luck
  • In reply to Jason Heller:

    Hi Jason, Thanks for your response! Definitely seems like a valid point that the best jobs are already taken. I had seen harvest internship positions listed much earlier in the Spring, but didn't really think about taking anything up until recently. There seem continuously be new postings, though- probably for the less desirable tasks like cleaning!
  • Are you looking to go into wineries/ winemaking specifically or somewhere else in the wine business?
  • Hi Michelle,

    It depends on what you want to do in the wine business... If you feel that winemaking could be in your future, obviously go for it. If you just want to learn more about the production process, doing a harvest can be an invaluable educational experience. You can only learn so much from books; sometimes you just have to see something for the information to click, if that makes sense.

    In terms of making connections, that totally depends on where you work and what the team is like. I would suggest finding a smaller winery to work your first vintage at. It's more likely that you'll be assigned a wider range of tasks, and within a smaller team it's usually easier to ask questions and see more things. If you wind up a large winery, you might just be steaming barrels all day and will have less face time with the winemaker. There are still a lot of jobs posted, but you should also email any wineries you're interested in directly, and even ask them to make a few suggestions if they are not hiring. Anywhere you wind up at, though, I'd recommend reading up on winemaking beforehand so that you know what questions to ask when different situations arise. It's true that a lot of wineries hire as early as January/February, but there are always last minute cancellations etc.

    All of that being said, however, as a person with no experience, you will likely be spending 80-90% of your time cleaning and moving things around. You will also likely be dirty/wet/disheveled/sore for much of the day. Personally, I love manual labor and find a weird sort of zen in repetitive tasks like punchdowns and power washing things. Harvest is one of the best times of year, especially if you're down for some hard work and long days!

    Feel free to email me if you have any specific questions -- msrachaelryan@gmail.com
  • Hi Michelle,

    Everyone has done a good job of sharing realistic expectations for the kind of work and experience you'd find and where you can find internship opportunities (winejobs.com).

    If you like the style and insight of winemaker, Steve Matthiasson, we are about to put out our offer for an internship position here at Acumen wine where he is our winemaker. We will be reviewing all the applications in the next few weeks so if this would interest you or someone you know, feel free to write me at steven@acumenwine.com with your resume and cover letter explaining a little more about your own inspiration for doing this.

    Regardless of where you go, you'll have an opportunity for an experience you will likely remember for the rest of your life.

    Cheers,

    Steve