The sugars, the acidity, and the weather all indicate to the winemaker when it is time for harvest. Harvest at a winery means that the grapes are ready to be made into wine and that there is work to be done. The grapes have to be picked, analyzed, sorted, peeled, skins pressed, fermented, and finally put into barrels. That doesn’t even include all of the cleaning and sanitizing that must happen. Harvest is the busiest time of year for a winery and most wineries will hire on additional help as a result.
It was during the 2002 Harvest at Zaca Mesa Winery in Santa Barbara County that JP Caldcleugh—now winemaker at Union Wine Co—found his calling. “I fell in love. It was like love at first sight. I remember my first day at work inside a tank. I was scrubbing the inside of a tank thinking that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life….Wine is so rich in history, culture, geography, people and place. I was definitely bitten right away.”
Though it was that moment at the winery that JP knew he wanted to make wine, it was not his first blush with the industry. JP’s father worked in wine distribution for years before opening a neighborhood bottle shop in Louisiana. JP began working there in high school and into college. Though JP knew winemakers and others in the industry he hadn’t thought at length about the people who actually made the wine.
JP was studying business at LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and was feeling the beginnings of discontent. He wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do, but selling wine or running his father’s bottle shop was not it.
The idea of finding something he “was passionate about but could marry to professional life” was percolating in his mind when a conversation with a distributor gave JP the thought to consider winemaking. “It’s funny. Even though I had been around and selling wine for five years I’d never been to California. I knew there were people out there making wine but I’d never really thought about it. It was definitely a light bulb moment.” JP took a semester off college and flew to California to experience his first of many harvests.
“Even though I had been around and selling wine for five years I’d never been to California. I knew there were people out there making wine but I’d never really thought about it. It was definitely a light bulb moment.”
Upon returning to Baton Rouge, JP switched his degree to Horticulture which was the closest he could get to Viticulture at LSU. During this time in his life he experimented with winemaking, using anything that was available to make into wine including blueberries and strawberries. A year after graduating, JP moved to Australia to earn his masters degree in Enology. When JP talks about winemaking and the process, there is nothing but pure appreciation for the craft in his voice. He shares this about the difference between Ecology and Viticulture, “I was always very interested in both. It’s something that appealed to me about winemaking. It’s a seasonal job. It’s changing both throughout the year and year to year. And that part is exciting to me.”
JP says that after completing a program in winemaking many people will work a harvest. The cool thing about harvest is that not everyone who works one is someone who is learning winemaking. Throughout the majority of the year there is usually a harvest happening in one of the hemispheres. Many people will travel from harvest to harvest. They’ll save their money and travel between harvest times. “Its a cool way to see the world,” JP shares.
JP loved Australia and spent some time there working at the research institute after graduation and before moving to California. He first went to work at Estancia and then later at Big Basin. The two wineries were different not only in scale but also in their approach to winemaking. After working in a larger winery for four years, the natural, minimalistic approach at Big Basin appealed to JP. “Big Basin was a very natural style of wine, with minimal intervention. If you are getting grapes from great vineyards, you have some picking decisions, and if you are smart and hygienic as a winemaker you are more of an invisible hand guiding the wine as opposed to intervening.”
During his time in California, JP was introduced to Ryan, owner of Union Wine Co., through Ryan’s brother Eric. JP and Ryan became friends and would call each other to geek out over wine. They were both experimental and would share ideas or collaborate. JP and Ryan both liked to push the boundaries of winemaking and this was a common interest between them.
The Land of Pinot Noir
JP had only been to Portland once, but the idea of being in the Pacific Northwest was always one he wanted to explore. JP has a particular fondness for Pinot Noir. “Pinot Noir is a really delicate and nuanced wine. It is almost like the difference between pop rock music and jazz. Pop rock music can be easy to enjoy and you see the appeal to it. Whereas jazz music may take you longer to get into it but once you get into it there is no turning back….I can always think of those great wines not as one of those wines where you stick your nose into the glass and can rattle off twenty descriptors. It’s the wines where you start thinking about the smells and all of a sudden it takes you back to childhood memories or some distant place and then you snap out of it and you realize you were on a 5 second journey. It is amazing that essentially grape juice that has been fermented can take you to a magical place. It is fantastic.”
“Pinot Noir is a really delicate and nuanced wine. It is almost like the difference between pop rock music and jazz.”
Stars aligned and JP and his wife made the move to Portland. JP loves living in a proper city that is so close to wine country. He is also very at home at Union Wine Co. He describes the company as being young and entrepreneurial. Union knows their consumer is in unafraid of pushing the boundaries or experimenting. “This is the first place where I truly feel 100% myself and comfortable. I am with a group of friends and we all have the same goals and direction in mind and we are all moving forward together,” JP says of Union.
For The Love of Wine
When I asked JP what he loved most about winemaking, I knew right away it was an unfair question to ask a man whose lifestyle is wine. Listening to JP share his love and passion for wine was like listening to a man read poetry to his beloved. I could picture the wine swirling in the glass, the sun rising over the vineyard, and the grapes ready to be picked off the vines. “There is not one particular thing I love. I love it all. In it’s purist form when I walked into the winery and still had no idea what winemaking was about, I just had a feeling that I fit into it and it made sense.”
He shares that winemaking is more than a profession, it’s a lifestyle. “I love every aspect of it. Even down to the logistics of it. I find that completely satisfying. I like that there is never a right answer. It’s not like you can nail a style or nail a wine. You are always learning and you can always evolve as a winemaker. There is some black and white in winemaking, but there is a lot of gray and I like working in the gray.” Winemaking is part creativity and part hard science. It is farming and it is managing. It’s a lifestyle that is constantly changing and it’s an industry that JP feels thankful to be part of.
“Be patient. I feel fortunate it happened for me when I was young. Some of the most interesting people I know didn’t know what they wanted to do ’til they were in their 40s or 50s. I think we are all too often, especially in this country, we are rushed into school when we are 18 years old. We are still young. We haven’t seen the world, we haven’t experienced things. We fall into degrees that are comfortable for us. I think you need to give yourself experiences. Don’t be afraid to leave a job you don’t like or to spend your last $300 on a plane ticket. Go out and do it. Your passion will present itself.”
Extraordinary words from an extraordinary man.
“Don’t be afraid to leave a job you don’t like or to spend your last $300 on a plane ticket. Go out and do it. Your passion will present itself.”
Union Wine Company/19550 SW Cipole Rd/Tualatin, OR 97062
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Written by Andrea Garrity
Photos by Angelina Lusetti and Andrea Garrity