“Table fellowship” is what attracted Emily Wiemer, enologist at Three Sticks Winery to the wine industry. It’s sitting around with new people, friends, and colleagues learning about each with a wine bottle and cork as the only distraction is where she gains energy. The Minnesota native’s wine journey wasn’t too much of a stretch since she already had a passion for food and agriculture. She fully intended to pursue a job in the food and agricultural field after attaining an undergraduate degree in food science from Iowa State University. However, it was wine that “brought it all together” for her.
After completing an internship at Gloria Ferrer and her master’s degree in viticulture and enology at the University of California Davis, Wiemer joined Three Sticks in 2019. This year, the 2019 (Three Sticks current release) is her first “grape to bottle.” Wiemer sat down with VinePair to discuss and gain an understanding of the enologist role, her thoughts on women in the wine industry, and how she found the “yum factor” at Three Sticks.
1. Where did your passion for wine come from?
My passion for wine arose from the realization that it bridges many gaps among things I already love. Wine unites my love for agriculture that I cultivated while at Iowa State; it provides me with a medium through which to apply chemistry and microbiology; and it incorporates hospitality and sharing my passion with others. I also really appreciate that winemaking can be found in every corner of the globe. The pursuit of becoming a winemaker has allowed me to travel for work to South Africa and Italy. I love incorporating wine tastings into touring new places.
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2. In your own words, what is an enologist; how is it different and/or related to winemaker?
The easiest way to put it is to say that I am a “wine scientist.” Much of my role involves sampling or testing wines to help monitor them. The data is then used in conjunction with tastings, but the response of our taste buds always wins out over a number on the page. Preparing and participating in tastings is another crucial part of my day-to-day role, especially during blending and bottling. I do lots of quality assurance and quality control, and through this I participate in every part of the winemaking process — from grape to bottle — which makes it a great preparatory role for moving into winemaking positions as I progress in my career.
3. There are several entry points into wine industry. What was yours and why did you choose it?
I entered the industry via education, knowing that it would be a powerful tool in helping me pivot and build upon my previous studies and experience in the food and agriculture industry. It was also an opportunity to begin building a community for myself in a new state and a new field. So, I enrolled at the University of California at Davis to learn more about the winemaking process and the science behind it. From there, gaining hands-on experience was crucial to cementing what I had learned in school and providing me a way to apply it.
4. How did UC Davis prepare you for your role and the wine world?
UC Davis helped me to further develop my critical thinking and data interpretation skills and helped me to build a network of wine industry professionals through the community of students, including my graduate program cohort. We were able to put these technical learnings into perspective through participation in extracurricular groups that also introduced us to industry veterans and a diverse array of successful approaches to winemaking. This helped us to realize how these lessons would best serve us, and to determine when we might want to take a different approach. Tasting groups, classes, and seminars helped each of us to discover our own personal style. In addition, these experiences helped us to acknowledge that the context of our schooling, particularly related to sensory perception, grape growing, and winemaking, can affect what we find in each bottle.
5. How did you end up at Three Sticks? In your opinion how does it stand out?
I knew as I entered the wine world that I wanted to focus on Sonoma County, particularly on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with quality at top of mind. Three Sticks is all of this and more. Carl Formaker, Three Sticks’ assistant winemaker (and a fellow UC Davis alum), helped to connect me with the rest of the winemaking team and it turned out to be a great fit. Three Sticks stands out because of our ability to get to know our estate vineyards across Sonoma County and what we on the winemaking team call the “yum factor.” We look for it as we’re blending, and we delight in it as we revisit wines we’ve made from previous vintages. It is this sort of X-factor that leaves you wanting another sip. I feel supported and encouraged, which has allowed me to thrive these last couple years. I’m so grateful for that.
6. What advice would you give to young women wanting to work in the industry as a winemaker, in the vineyard, or the cellar?
Just try it! And don’t overthink it! Be prepared for some hard work, but it comes with some great rewards. Find a team that supports you, and then “bloom and grow.” Try to learn why you’re doing a task — this helps both with motivation and fulfillment at work for me. Being humble, vulnerable, and ready to learn also fosters a longer-term commitment to crafting wines and remaining in this industry. Don’t let self-doubt or negative self-talk push you out of something that you really love.
7. How has the wine industry changed in the last year? How have things improved?
The past year was extremely challenging for the California wine world due to Covid and fires. These issues have forced us to adapt and improve. Having an online presence and the adoption of more technology were huge factors both for selling wine (online marketplaces, virtual tastings) as well as for increasing access for seminars and conferences while unable to gather or travel. Though these were imperfect replacements, I think that there were some highly positive takeaways that will remain in place. Fires forced everyone to confront their commitment to quality, though the response to this challenge varied across the industry. Some chose not to harvest, and others felt they could still make great wine since the effects were felt differently across each region. Regardless, we have all had to learn a lot more about this threat to our industry and how we can defend the quality of our wines against it.
8. What is the best piece of advice you received regarding your career?
Being reminded to balance patience with drive. While having goals is obviously very important to continue progressing, realizing the beauty of maximizing your current situation for the utmost growth has been a big lesson for me. Acknowledging that I am right where I need to be in the given moment has helped lend a lot more satisfaction and happiness to my journey in wine. Embracing this long road is crucial to promote sustainable learning for me.
9. How does the “affordability” of California affect interns, cellar masters, and other roles in Napa/Sonoma?
Because the area where we are employed is so highly coveted by others for its lifestyle, weather, and location, it can be tough to live where we work. I would say that it often ends up preventing some of us from participating in the “lifestyle” we had hoped for as we joined the industry, which is heartbreaking. But we enjoy other insider perks in wine country that help to offset this challenge, though they do not make up for the challenge completely.
Our hospitality colleagues warmly take care of their own, and that sort of acknowledgment is so appreciated. It can be tough for interns (particularly those that are traveling) to break even given the dual challenges of expensive housing and their temporary status. This then negatively affects their experience in exploring the region that they are working within.
10. Do you have advice for anyone interested in or new to working a harvest regarding expectations?
Be ready to get dirty and work long hours. It is extremely important to check one’s ego at the door, because saying “that’s not my job” is not OK. We are all in it together, and that camaraderie and teamwork is what buoys us through the vintage season. Seasonal work is a huge challenge as the hours and work are inconsistent as folks enter the industry, but we all patch it together until we find a sustainable, full-time job.
11. What’s next for you professionally?
I hope to keep growing in my role as enologist for Three Sticks and that I continue to learn from everyone on the rest of the team. Progressing into roles as assistant winemaker and eventually head winemaker will be stepping stones as I continue my career in wine. It is also important to me that I help as many people as possible as I grow and continue my learning. I aspire to do this by sharing my knowledge, offering encouragement, and by being inclusive in all that I do.
12. What’s next for Three Sticks?
We are continuing to strive to make the best wines possible. We will continue to make wines that represent their growing season and a sense of their place. This commitment means that we are never complacent or rocking back on our heels. It keeps us learning. It keeps us growing. It is also important to us that we keep sharing our wines, specifically in modes that convey table fellowship and that foster friendship and community. Gathering around our wines with friends and family is when they shine brightest. This organic growth is what will ensure and maintain our role in Sonoma County wine.