Wait a second, wrong documentary.
I am talking about four winemakers on the path to prestige, however. Though they’re not trying to become Master Sommeliers, they are learning more about the winemaking process thanks to Rocklands Farm. You may know them better as Ashley, Adam, Katrina, and Tim.
Rocklands takes pride in supporting young farmers and vintners, which is especially important since the average age of the American farmer is 58. As such, most of Rocklands’ winemaking team are new to the process. Fortunately, Winemaker and Vineyard Manager TJ Fleming is a big proponent of education, especially considering his background. As a chemistry teacher-gone-winemaker, TJ now provides guidance to the rest of the crew, while simultaneously encouraging their own personal growth.
In addition to on-the-job training, Rocklands is investing into each member of its winemaking team in different ways. To learn more, I caught up with these eager students of the vine.
The Straight-A Student: Ashley Field
“I love school,” confessed Ashley Field, Rocklands’ tasting room manager. “When I came to this job, I was itching for some sort of continuing education in my life. Since I was pretty new to wine, Rocklands figured it would benefit everyone if I was more educated about it.”
Thanks to Rocklands, Ashley is now close to finishing a 5-week certification program with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust at the Capital Wine School Washington, DC. The program was a perfect fit, as it focused on industry practices and went over etiquette relevant to Ashley’s work in the tasting room. The classes go through everything thing from how to taste wine to how to make wine, the factors that affect wine, characteristics of the most popular grapes, and the regions they’re from.
“It’s pretty intense,” Ashley stated. “Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in all of my notecards! But I am really enjoying it.”
As the farm’s newest hire, Ashley is grateful for Rocklands’ support.
"People already know that Rocklands is this really authentic, natural place that makes great wine, but being so supported on an educational and career level is what makes a company a great company."
— Ashley Field, Tasting Room Manager
The Grade-Skipper: Adam Drici
For Assistant Wine Maker Adam Drici, who’s been with Rocklands since 2015, the chance to take UC Davis Extension’s Winemaking Certificate Program was a no-brainer. Like most of the winemaking team, Adam came to Rocklands green, though he had worked part-time at a winery in college.
When Rocklands offered for him to take the UC Davis program (which TJ himself took when he started), Adam jumped at the opportunity.
“It’s like I got cheat codes,” Adam said. “I didn’t have to make as many mistakes, because I was learning from the program and then applying what I learned the next day in the winery. Actually doing the work reinforced what I was studying.”
Two years later, his certificate is officially in the mail. He has no concrete plans to celebrate as of yet, but if anyone’s looking for gift ideas, he’s partial to the 2017 Monocacy, Montevideo, and C&O.
“I’m really thankful for the opportunity to take these classes. It made it so that we can make better wine faster, which is better for the farm.”
— Adam Drici, Assistant Wine Maker
In January, Katrina Buccella will begin the UC Davis Winemaking Certificate Program. She hasn’t been out of college long, but Katrina already can’t wait to go back to school.
“I kind of love learning, so I’m constantly bugging TJ with questions,” she admitted to me. “"The more that I know what’s behind what we’re doing, the better I can make suggestions, fix problems, and just enjoy the experience of making it more!"
Katrina is excited to be gaining more in-depth knowledge about the science of wine. As a biology major, she has loved learning about the microbiology side of fermentation. She's now looking forward to learning more about the chemistry behind the winemaking process.
"I can't wait to know more about how the science works. It’s going to be fascinating!" — Katrina Buccella, Winemaking & Vineyard Assistant
Since becoming certified in Maryland Private Applicator Training with the rest of the wine team, Tim Sharp will never be the same.
“It’s a lot more than just learning how to hook up the sprayer,” he remarked. “The class reinforced that we’re part of a larger ecosystem. The more precautions we can take when it comes to pesticides, the safer we can be.”
Rocklands is part of a local growers’ cooperative, which means they use low-impact methods in the vineyard. They use pesticides (mainly fungicides), albeit sparingly, due to the amount of precipitation in the region. At first, learning about the potential environmental and health damages of pesticides made Tim nervous. Learning from University of Maryland Extension educator Chuck Schuster about integrated pest management strategies and worker safety precautions put him at ease, however. On December 4, the team took a test to get certified, and everyone passed!
“I’m really appreciative that the farm offered for us to get certified. Rocklands is investing in us so we can learn more and gain more responsibility.” — Tim Sharp, Winemaking & Vineyard Assistant