How to write a winemaker biography ~ Step 1

Writing is a four-step process:

  1. Thinking, planning, and researching your subject, in order to begin writing
  2. Writing
  3. Editing
  4. Rewriting (as many times as it takes, to get it as perfect as possible)

With as many winemakers as I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and with whom I’ve worked, I’ve developed my standard questions. These questions give me a really great snapshot of the person. So, my first step (above) is done ad infinitum. As I carefully read each answer (still part of thinking and planning), I’m begin to develop the winemaker biography.

I have a new winemaker client that I’m pleased to introduce. His name is John Kane, who also owns JCK Wine Company.

My first step with any winemaker is to ask that the questionnaire below is completed. Once I read the answers, I then know who I’m going to be promoting, and how to position her or his uniqueness.

Consider crafting your own questions, while you use this as a guide. It will make your story telling unique. This is just a formula that works for me.

Step 1

Winemaker Profile questions:

[Q]   What is your background?

John Kane: I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, and have been surrounded by agriculture my whole life. At 12-years old, I started working summers. I was in packing sheds stacking pallets of any kind of fruit, for spending money.  I loved the physical work and all you can eat fruits.  From there I worked all kinds of ranch and farm jobs.  When I look back, I loved being and working outside.  When I got to college, like most, I worked a wide array of jobs. In San Luis Obispo, while working as a chemist’s assistant in a pharmaceutical laboratory, I caught the biochemistry bug. That’s when I decided what I wanted to do.

While living in San Luis Obispo, I was introduced to the wine scene.  I remember in a chemistry class, the discussion turned to wine and the chemistry of wine, and it clicked.  I could work outside, have a job that deals with chemistry, and make something I loved. I went to Fresno State to continue biochemistry and enrolled in the Enology Program. Graduating in 2001, I met Jeff Cohn at a tasting. He was presenting and told me I should come to Rosenblum Cellars for an internship. I went back to the Paso Robles area and did small winery and vineyard work, but knew this wasn’t going to be long term.  I ended up taking the internship at Rosenblum Cellars after meeting Kent, and seeing how many wines they produced from all over the state.  In my mind, working with over twenty varieties from every AVA meant that the learning experience was vast.  I also didn’t want a lab position. I wanted to work in the cellar and learn everything about running a winery.  So I started in the bottling room in 2001, and became Associate winemaker in 2005. By 2008, I was made winemaker, and in 2012 I became the senior winemaker.

My background in Agriculture has relations to wine, but more to working with farmers, being outside and understanding how to run a business.  When you work in agriculture you have to understand the whole process, not just your function.

[Q]   When did you first realize that you wanted to become a winemaker?

[A]  In a chemistry class when I saw that wine needs a chemistry mind, but my real confirmation of wanting to be a winemaker was meeting Kent Rosenblum.  I was amazed at how much he loved what he was doing and everyday coming to work was a joy and not a drag!  I loved going to work at Rosenblum Cellars!

[Q]   How did you get into the wine business?

[A]  By interning at Rosenblum Cellars.

[Q]   Who are your mentors?

[A]  Jeff Cohn and Kent Rosenblum. They were and still are great mentors to me.

[Q]   What have they done to make your life more enjoyable?

[A]  Kent showed me how to get the most out of the wine industry and how important to be a sales person and not just a winemaker. Jeff showed me how to push the limits on winemaking and to forget some of the hard rules you learned in College on making wine.

[Q]    Do you enjoy the spotlight (i.e., travel, panels, judging, etc.), or do you prefer the lab?

[A]  I don’t mind it. I love working the streets with sales, doing panel talks. I’m a member of the Orange County Wine Society as a judge.

[Q]   What aspects of wine do you most enjoy?

[A]  The enjoyment it can bring to gatherings or dinner.  Most of all it’s not something a robot can do.  You still have a lot of hands on labor and small techniques that can make a huge difference in the final product.

[Q]   How has your job changed since you’ve started?

[A]  The job changes everyday; but, going from working for a company to starting your own is night and day.  I wish I would have made this move years ago; but, I would not have the knowledge, if I didn’t work for Rosenblum Cellars and Diageo.

[Q]   What’s the most memorable wine you’ve ever tasted?

[A]  2001 Rockpile Road Petite Sirah. Never has a wine been so dense with huge fruit, and made me realize that Cabernet Sauvignon was not worth the price.

[Q]   Do you have a favorite variety?

[A]  Zinfandel by far is my favorite.  I think it shows true terroir, and I’ll always say that Zinfandel is the toughest grape to farm.

[Q]   What is it about this variety that takes your breath away?

[A]  Zinfandel is alive and makes your mouth and brain respond different than any other wine you try.  The acidity, fruit, and shear silkiness of the palate makes Zinfandel a wine that is alive and not boring.

[Q]   What’s your favorite innovation in the wine industry over the past few years?

[A]  There really hasn’t been any, as I prefer to do things the old and hard way.  I believe all the new things in the industry are making a lot of wines taste the same.

[Q]   What’s your favorite food and wine pairing?

[A]  Italian food is my weakness and Zinfandel is what takes it to another level.

[Q]   What are your interests outside of the wine business?

[A]  Foremost, spending time with my family, whether camping or going to soccer games.  My love for the outdoors extends from hunting, to snow skiing, and everything in between.  Being outside is what counts.

[Q]   Who inspires you (wine business or outside of it, doesn’t matter)?

[A]  Now that I started my own wine company, all the people who started wine companies and are still around today.

[Q]    What single project or task would you consider your most significant accomplishment in your career to date?

[A]  JCK Wine Company.  Is has always been a dream!

[Q]    For what would you like to be remembered?

[A]  I would like to hand an established wine company to my kids, to run and enjoy the same life that I currently am.