Wine and viticulture senior Justin Gazzaniga delayed graduation a year to work in his industry — yet his learning continues. Jolting awake to a piercing alarm at 5:30 a.m., putting on his worn out jeans and then hustling out the door to get to work on time are all better than sitting in a classroom, he says. They are his real education.
“I love being able to be outside most days and I would much rather be doing that than sitting in a classroom learning about the things I could be doing,” Gazzaniga said. “I know Cal Poly is Learn by Doing, but it is nice to take it one step further.”
Wine is a $1.785 billion industry in San Luis Obispo County, according to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. Many Cal Poly students are leading the way due to mindsets like Gazzaniga’s – without Cal Poly students, many wineries would struggle to get through harvest.
Gazzaniga is not the only wine and viticulture student who is working at wineries this fall. There are many others, including wine and viticulture junior Taylor Rebora.
Rebora also wakes up bright and early, and her knowledge of the industry is far above that of many her age. She has been working in the industry for three years now, even though she is still a student at Cal Poly.
While other students sit in a classroom learning what they hope will help them in their future careers, Rebora and Gazzaniga are already working and making a large impact on the wine industry.
Rebora is currently a harvest intern at Tooth and Nail Winery in Paso Robles. Her job involves lab analysis and cellar work. Since it is currently harvest time and grapes are being picked, she is getting in 20 to 40 tons of grapes a day.
The grapes arrive from the field, and each type requires a different process. Processing red grapes involves destemming them and transferring them into fermenter bins or tanks. White grapes are put into presses where the juice from the grape skins is extracted.
“The feeling of physically holding a bottle of wine that you were involved in making is one of the most satisfying feelings that I have ever had,” Rebora said. “And to think about all of the long hours and stress that you put into making such a complex little craft makes it so rewarding.”
Cal Poly and UC Davis are the only schools in California that offer the Wine and Viticulture major. Due to its close proximity to two of the best wine countries in the United States, it only make sense Cal Poly is one of them.
“Students are such a large part of our group of workforce from in the lab to out in the fields,” Tooth and Nail Winery Director of Operations Tami Jo Haley said. “We wouldn’t have enough people to harvest without them.”