From the Ground Up: Gordon’s Russian River Wine Education
by EnRoute on September 8, 2015
“It would not be a stretch to say that Gordon has had a hand in building everything in the winery – shelves, ladders, glycol lines, pumps, topping systems, air compressor parts, computer systems – all while building and then maintaining the EnRoute laboratory.” Andrew Delos, Winemaker
“Currently, I’ve been chancing things, by turning my iPod on “full shuffle,” a dangerous proposition, as this could mix Beastie Boys, Chopin, Metallica, and Thelonious Monk – and then suddenly throw out a lecture about Plutarch. I attempted all bluegrass yesterday morning; it did not go well. MUTINY.” Assistant Winemaker Gordon Smith, on his PlayList Wars set
Meet Gordon Smith, EnRoute Assistant Winemaker, closet poet and a lover of spicy foods, Steely Dan and his cat, Rosie. Since he joined us two and a half years ago, Gordon has been an integral part of the inception, design and implementation of the EnRoute Winery in Sebastopol.
Gordon’s accidental detour into winemaking shares a few similarities to EnRoute Winemaker Andrew Delos’ own story. Both have science backgrounds, both did stints in Santa Barbara, and, when they finally made their way to wine country, both knew within moments of dragging hoses and cleaning tanks that they had found their work “home.”
Gordon was about two years into his PhD in materials chemistry in Santa Barbara when he decided to take advantage of the area and taste his way through the region. It was an exciting – dare we say, intoxicating? – self-education. It also opened his eyes to the fact that, “I didn’t really like traditional chemistry beyond a curiosity and a hobby. If I stuck around, not only would I have been miserable, but I would have been a woefully bad chemist.” When he left the chemistry program and moved back to his hometown of Nashville, Gordon purposefully found a job at a wine shop. He spent three weeks there, before his manager walked in one day and said, “Why aren’t you making wine?”
It was a pivotal question, and Gordon decided to explore the option. After applying for a dozen harvest internships, he was hired by Williams Seylem in 2010. On day one, Gordon’s first thought was, “I’ll try this, but I really need a real job.” Two hours in, that thought was replaced with the sound and certain knowledge that “this was what I wanted to do.”
Other internships and experiences led to new opportunities, and in May 2013, Gordon joined EnRoute just as we were getting settled in our new Russian River Valley winery.
“It’s been great to design and build this place from the ground up,” he says. As assistant winemaker, Gordon gets to do a little bit of everything: grower relations, plumbing, electrical, you name it. “And I still get to use my chemistry,” he says. “To have facility with that knowledge makes the artistic side easier and safer.”
In the two years he’s been with us, Andrew says, “Gordon has demonstrated an amazing ability to understand and implement the winemaking philosophy and goals of EnRoute, while also bringing a fresh perspective that has pushed us to even greater heights.”
Gordon’s fresh way of looking at things has been a tremendous help during what has been one of the most intense harvest seasons of both Andrew’s and Gordon’s careers. Gordon’s take on Harvest 2015 in five-words: “shock and awe, bottling harvest mayhem.”
With fruit coming in two weeks earlier than last year, just as the 2014 vintage was going into bottle, it’s a pretty accurate description. Chaos aside, the 2015 vintage itself is showing great promise; Gordon’s seeing elegant concentration and great structure coming from this early, low-yielding year.
We’ll raise a glass of Russian River Pinot to that!