Courtney Kingston
February 1, 2013 | Winemaking | Courtney Kingston

The Chile/California Connection: Kingston Winemaker Exchange Program

2011 Intern, Whitney Ulvestad, sorting grapes with Evelyn Vidal

Our family is Chilean/American, and while our vineyard and farm is in Chile, I (Courtney Kingston) live in Northern California and travel back and forth to Casablanca.  I am fortunate to feel at home in both places, and am often struck by the similarities.  As Byron Kosuge, our consulting winemaker from Napa likes to say, Casablanca is like California with the "volume turned up".  Instead of the Sierra Nevadas, you've got the Andes; instead of driving 3 hours from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe to ski, in Chile you can ski Portillo and swim in the Pacific (in a wetsuit, no doubt) in the same day.  Byron works with vineyards up & down the California coast (from Hirsch Vineyards up in Sonoma, to Pisoni Vineyards in Santa Lucia Highlands, down to Talley Vineyards in Arroyo Grande), and he says western Casablanca reminds him most of California's Santa Rita Hills on south-central coast.

With a foot in both winemaking worlds, we thought it would make sense to facilitate an "intercambio" or exchange program between Chilean and Californian winemakers & vineyard managers, with a particular focus on pinot noir and small-lot winemaking.  In some ways, the idea of Californians headed south or Chileans headed north was nothing new:  each year, Chile sends the largest number of young winemakers to work harvest in California, and many Californians head south as well.  But many end up working at larger wineries (working on the white wine press on the graveyard shift), and don't necessarily get the hands-on winemaking experience with cool climate reds that we are trying to foster at Kingston.  (The same is often true for American winemakers headed south; most of the harvest jobs and experiences are with Chile's bigger wineries in the Central Valley making cabernet.)

Evelyn Vidal and Courtney Kingston (center) with former interns Leslie Mead Renaud and Maruxa Roel in 2006

So each year, we try to make the connection with someone going north or south, sharing and expanding their pinot winemaking or winegrowing knowledge.  We've been a bit of the Harriet Tubman of pinot noir people headed either way, and we are happy to now have a small diaspora of alums from our exchange program.  In addition to connecting young Chilean winemakers with California pinot "mentors" like Ken Bernards (Ancien), Michael Terrien (Acacia), and Bob Cabral (Williams Selyem), we've also welcomed California winemakers south to Casablanca including Leslie Mead Renaud (from Talley, now of Lincourt), Alex Beloz (Molnar Family), and Whitney Ulvestad (Hudson).

As we're gearing up for our 2013 harvest which will start next month, we're excited to welcome Morgan Hall to our team!  Before working harvest with us she was at Archery Summit in Oregon, Burn Cottage in NZ, and Copain in CA where she met our California winemaker, Byron Kosuge.


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