Harvest team rocks the 2018 vintage

As Red Newt Winery has grown in recent years, the staff has increasingly enlisted the help of additional hands during harvest season. Now in its fifth year, the harvest intern program is an essential part of the winemaking process.

“We wouldn’t be able to get through harvest without the interns we bring in,” said Kelby Russell, head winemaker. “They both allow us to get through the work, but they also allow us to do special things because we have the time to focus on certain tasks that we wouldn’t otherwise.”

Since 2014, 10 interns have come to Red Newt from across the U.S., Switzerland, and Australia to aid in a season of harvest and with the goal of gaining invaluable experience for their futures in the winemaking industry

To advertise the intern positions, Red Newt uses job postings on wine industry websites, as well as Facebook groups such as Travelling Winemakers. (In 2018, Russell estimates that they received 70 applications.) When they arrive on the winery grounds in late summer—about three or four weeks before harvest—the interns assist with bottling, as well as cleaning the cellar in anticipation of the coming months’ work. Although he admits these tasks lack some excitement, Russell sees them as important. “I think as boring as it can be, it’s good for the interns because, between bottling and cleaning everything, by the time harvest actually arrives, they know where everything is in the cellar,” he said.

Once harvest season begins, the staff and interns of Red Newt work as a team in the vineyard inspecting the quality of the grapevines, and as fruit starts to arrive, they disperse and cycle through different tasks, including: working the wine press or the crusher destemmer, operating the forklift, running tests inside in the laboratory, starting and monitoring fermentations, or punching down red wine grapes. The rotation of these tasks, Russell said, makes for a more enjoyable season for the interns. “Red Newt, I think, is a fun place to work because we don’t force people into doing just one thing over and over,” he said. “I’ve definitely had harvest experiences where you’re assigned one job at the start of harvest because it’s almost like a factory, and you do nothing else the entire time.

Over the course of the harvest season, significant development occurs for the interns, thus allowing for them to advance their careers within the timeframe of a few months. “We’re a pretty good jumping-off point, it seems like, for people who are looking for jobs in the industry, because the harvest intern job, by and large, is pretty much done by Thanksgiving,” Russell said.

In response an expected larger bounty of fruit this past season, Red Newt welcomed five harvest interns to its team in 2018. “This year, I think we have a nice mix,” Russell said. “We have some people who came in from other regions and are looking to finish their time here and then go back to where they’re from, and this is a really good experience abroad for them and a good thing to broaden their horizons. And then we have a couple people who are here who are looking to get into the Finger Lakes wine industry afterwards, or kind of continue along this path in the Finger Lakes.

Matt Sweigart, a Central Pennsylvania native, came to Red Newt with over a decade of experience in the wine and beverage industry. After high school, he spent a decade in Manhattan, where he majored in musical theatre at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and served in restaurants. During this time, he became curious about the wine on his menus and started studying to become a sommelier by taking the Court of Master Sommelier introductory course. However, Matt eventually changed course and worked as a beverage director in Princeton, NJ, and then returned to Manhattan once again. His most recent stop involved working in sales for a small importer-distributor in South Central Pennsylvania before realizing he was more interested in the production aspect of wine, prompting him to apply for Red Newt’s harvest internship.

In the past few months at Red Newt, Matt has enjoyed putting to work the techniques he learned about while studying winemaking, as well as those he taught while working as a beverage director. “The experience has been … life-changing,” he said. “It’s been a dream of mine to be in the production aspect of things for many years since I started wine almost a decade ago.” Matt, who describes himself as goofy and a bit of a clown, has also valued the staff’s welcoming attitude and level of care they have for the interns. His favorite style of music to play while working in the cellar is showtunes.

Next, Matt said he hopes to “keep learning more and experiencing different aspects of the [winemaking] trade,” while adding that he will “go where the wind takes me.”

Christine Ferry, a graduate of William Smith College, is from Ohio but has also lived in Los Angeles and New York City. She approaches winemaking through more of a scientific lens, as her background is in chemistry. “It’s always kind of been an interest of mine of how unique wine is, and how many subtle things can impact the flavor so dramatically,” she said. Christine ’s work this season has included fermentation management, filtering, and raking, but her favorite work has been in the laboratory. “One of the things, actually, that I really enjoy doing is tasting all of the fermentations, and trying to guess what’s good, what’s bad, and going based off of what Kelby has decided needs to be done or not done to the wine—kind of figuring out if I’m right or wrong on things,” she said. Describing her style as a worker, Christine , who admitted she still has a lot to learn, said: “I tend to be very thoughtful and really think through everything. Because I’m so new, I don’t know all of the stuff yet, so I force everybody to remember their roots on everything … that’s kind of been how been how I’ve helped out the most—just reminding people all of the basics.

Although she has no specific career goals or plans after moving on from Red Newt, Christine intends to use her chemistry degree more by working in a laboratory.

Greg Hensley is an Iowa native with a degree in agricultural business from Graceland University. Greg arrived at Red Newt having lived in Napa Valley for four years, where he became interested in winemaking, and then worked as a cellar supervisor at Heitz Cellar in Australia. Greg, who describes himself as quiet, frequently ran the forklift this past season—a task he enjoyed so much he refers to it as a hobby. While in the cellar, his favorite music to play the cellar is renaissance choral music.

A major takeaway of his experience as a harvest intern will be the tutelage he received from Russell. “I think it’s been really incredible working under Kelby,” Greg said. “He’s pretty much a genius, and he’s also the best DJ/winemaker I’ve ever worked for.” He isn’t yet sure which winery he will move on to next, but Greg said he will be setting up base in the Finger Lakes with his girlfriend, and would like to find his niche in the wine industry.

Claire Treadwell hails from Chicago and attended the University of Missouri, where she took a winetasting class that opened her eyes to winemaking. Since arriving at Red Newt in August, Claire said she has enjoyed working on the crush pad the most, while also honing in on the skills she learned last year during her first harvest at St. James Winery in Missouri. She herself as a hard worker, and loves getting into the “nitty gritty” of the work both in the lab and outside. Her go-to music in the cellar is any music that is upbeat, perhaps electronic dance music (EDM).

Claire plans to return to Missouri after this year’s harvest and remain in the winemaking business.

Jemma McGilton is an Australian with a degree in viticulture and enology from the University of Adelaide. Jemma was drawn to the winemaking industry, she said, because it is fun. “It’s a really amazing kind of environment, and the people involved in the industry are very awesome,” she said. Jemma came to the U.S. for the first time this past season having already done several harvests in Australia. The best part of her experience at Red Newt, she said, has been working with the rest of the winemaking team, but she also improved her teamwork skills, which allowed for the winemaking process to flow as well as possible. “I like to think that I bring everyone together,” she said. A self-described “cellar rat,” Jemma’s favorite music to play in the cellar is ‘90s grunge. She plans to return home to Australia in the Barossa Valley after this harvest season, and would like to own her own winery and make Riesling in the future, as she is fascinated by the grape’s diversity.

(Also in photo: James Anderson – cellarmaster, Meagz Goodwin – assistant winemaker, Kelby Russell – winemaker, Katie Thompson – general manager, David Whiting – founding winemaker.)

About the author

austin lambAustin Lamb is a freelance reporter. He reports on news events, writes feature stories, and manages the Ithaca Times Twitter account. Austin is a 2018 LACS graduate and will attend Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications in 2019.


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