Harvest Team 2018

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.

 

Rebecca Mahmoud joins Red Newt Cellars

Rebecca Mahmoud, Red Newt Brand Ambassador

rebecca mahmoudRed Newt Cellars is pleased to announce that Rebecca Mahmoud has joined the Red Newt Cellars wine marketing and distribution team. Her focus as brand ambassador will be on facilitating and expanding Red Newt Cellars’ recognition and distribution in North America. Red Newt is currently distributed to 15 US states, Europe, Japan, China and New Zealand.

Rebecca Mahmoud is a marketer, entrepreneur and hospitality professional, inspired by the creative process. Her career has spanned different businesses, from fine art auctions, photo styling and contract furniture, to food and wine.

The last nearly two decades of Rebecca’s career has been devoted to her long-held passion in wine. She began by working for San Francisco importer, Adventures in Wine, as their acting COO. From there, she moved into a sales and marketing role at Broadbent Selections, where she worked for ten years. During that time, she made great strides for the company in roles spanning marketing, business development and regional sales. These accomplishments included the establishment of a private label wine program for national accounts, including BevMo and Cost Plus World Market and assistance in new brand development.

In the 1990’s, Rebecca owned and ran a successful photo styling business—Rebecca Stephany Styling. Based in San Francisco, her core markets were the food and wine print advertising and publishing worlds.

Rebecca studied Anthropology, Textile History and Religious Studies at University of Wisconsin—Madison. She also received a BFA in Textile Design from the Rochester Institute of Technology. During these undergraduate years, she won the National Gold Medal in Textile Design—her first love.

Red Newt Cellars Winery & Bistro was founded in 1998 and is a premier producer of Riesling, aromatic whites, and expressive red wines in the Finger Lakes wine region of New York State.

Newter Profiles – Kelby James Russell

Kelby Russel, Red Newt Winemaker

When Kelby Russell set foot on the Harvard University campus as a freshman in the fall of 2005, he planned to pursue a career in nanotechnology. Not soon after his arrival, Russell, a musician, switched to a major in government and minor in economics with the intention of entering the orchestra management business. Thirteen years later, the Newark, N.Y. native is the head winemaker at Red Newt Cellars and Bistro.What caused Russell’s significant change of path? “I think it comes from two sides,” he says. “I was always really interested in food experiences, and then as I got older that could include alcohol.” A trip overseas to Italy after his junior year was a major reason for the shift in Russell’s career vision. As part of Harvard College’s Patterson Travelling Fellowship, Russell was required to outline what he would study and accomplish in Italy. He chose to learn about Italian culture through the lens of food and wine history—a unique objective that Russell says helped his application stand out. For three weeks, he worked on a vineyard in exchange for room and board, and during this time Russell realized his passion for winemaking. “I just kind of fell in love with wine, and I fell in love with the lifestyle of working in the vineyard.”

The other reason for Russell’s interest in winemaking, he says, was the profession’s creative appeal to him as an artist, as music has always played a large role in his life. In high school, Russell was a jazz saxophonist. In college, he was a member of the Harvard Glee Club. And now, he is a tenor in the Eastman Rochester Chorus. “I think the other side does come from the music side, where I loved singing and I loved playing saxophone and loved the artistic side of music,” Russell says. Additionally, as he progressed through college, Russell learned that orchestra management is much less of an artistic profession than it is one of business, with a large focus on labor negotiations and logistics, and realized that it might not “scratch the itch that I wanted it to,” he says.

Russell graduated from Harvard in 2009, and, having departed from his orchestra arrangement plans, returned to the Finger Lakes Region to begin his winemaking career with Fox Run

Vineyards. Over the next three years, Russell expanded his knowledge of the discipline under the leadership of acclaimed winemaker Peter Bell, Fox Run owner Scott Osborn, and vineyard manager John Kaiser. During this time, Russell also took annual winter trips to the Southern Hemisphere, where he gained additional harvest experience at vineyards in either New Zealand or Australia. His experience included Whitehaven Winery in Marlborough, Pipers Brook Vineyard in Tasmania, and Yalumba Winery in the Barossa Valley. “[W]hen you’re breaking into winemaking, it isn’t how many years of experience you’ve had—it’s how many harvests,” Russell says. “So if you can get multiple, then it’s beneficial to you.”

After his final harvest at Fox Run in the fall of 2011, Russell interviewed with Red Newt owner Dave Whiting, who offered Russell a permanent job upon his return to the Finger Lakes from his final trip to Australia. Three days after he came back, Russell began at Red Newt as the assistant winemaker. After the 2012 harvest, he was promoted to head winemaker.

Since then, Russell has approached his job with a unique dedication and excitement. “The fun of being a winemaker—especially at Red Newt now—is that there’s no particularly typical day,” says Russell, whose work focuses on Rieslings, but also Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Bordeaux. “[P]robably 40 days a year we start at 6:30 in the morning, and I’m sterilizing the bottling lines. So, everything is filled with steam and I’m getting our bottling line ready to run for the day so they can bottle wine.” However, there are also some more conventional, workdays. “There are plenty of days in the year where we’re filtering wine, or just working with the wine in general in a much more nine-to-five schedule,” Russell says. “We’re still doing fun things: moving the wine around or tasting it. And, there are days when we do big blending sessions, and those take most of a day to get through to figure out what blends we want to make.”

Currently, the Red Newt staff is in the midst of harvest season, a more busy time which Russell describes as “when the real crux of being a winemaker comes together.” During this time, he says, their schedule varies. “There are days when we spend most of our time in the vineyard getting the vineyard ready for picking and to get things looking the way we want them for harvest, and we’ll work from sunup to sundown,” says Russell. “And there are plenty of days once we get into picking where the cellar here at Red Newt is just a hive of activity from morning until midnight with deliveries of grapes and crushing the grapes … Inside, we’ve got the juice that’s already been pressed off and we’re settling that, fermenting that, and checking on it and running all of our tests. And that usually lasts from about this time of year until Thanksgiving.”

Russell’s favorite part of the year is near the end of the harvest season, he says, when the wine is fermenting and there are 60 or 70 different fermentations of Riesling in the cellar. “[J]ust the fun and the excitement of tasting all of those and seeing what directions they’re going in, and starting to think about what wines they might become or what we want to direct them towards—it’s such an exciting time of year,” says Russell. “And that carries through right to the finish of polishing the wine and getting it ready and bottling it, and getting to see it go out into the wild. But for me, the real of heart of it is those really really early days when it’s still mostly just juice because it’s just barely started fermenting [and] you’re starting to think about what it might become.”

Outside of Red Newt, Russell’s hobbies include running, cooking, golf, and of course, music. “At home I’m either listening to music or listening to podcasts about music,” he says. “And then at home, I spend a lot of time cooking. That’s still a huge passion of mine. I absolutely love cooking. I cook most nights. And then I guess the hobby I have beyond that is golfing, which is provides a nice break from winemaking.”

As head of the winery’s staff, Russell emphasizes his team’s exuberant style. Often, music of all genres will playing in the cellar, which Russell says is a key part of their cellar experience. “I think that I and the cellar team around me are delightfully quirky,” Russell says. “I think people think of winemakers and wine as being a very serious—almost a boring subject in some ways … I think if you spend some time in our cellar and got to know me and our crew—we take things very seriously, but we also have a ton of fun and are a pretty goofy bunch of people, and I think that makes the wines more exciting as a result.”

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.

Red Newt Write

Red Newt launches blog – Red Newt Write

At Red Newt, we’ve got a really great crew of folks who make the wines that you love. Over the next few months, you’ll have a chance to get each of us a little bit better. Our first installments of Red Newt Write are penned by Austin Lamb, freelance reporter in Ithaca NY. We are excited to have Austin spend some time with our family and pass our conversations along to you! Visit our Blog!

About the author

Austin 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.