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Finding and Living the Dream

Ever since writing a post last year about Harvest workers, I have been interested in the nomadic lifestyle of folks in the wine industry that travel internationally covering harvest after harvest. For many it is an attempt to break into the business when circumstances have not presented the silver spoon or the golden ticket.

West Coast natives probably take an entry into the wine industry for granted – go to UC Davis or Fresno State, start out as a cellar rat and work your way up trying to build a resume with wineries with name recognition.

It is a dog-eared blueprint for entering through the front door and the path to follow if you are not born into the business with birthright.

However, what happens if you are in Indianapolis, IN with a wine itch, and your itch starts at the tail end of your education at Indiana University where you are majoring in a program in the School of Public Affairs and Environmental Sciences?

If you are Greg Harden, you begin the odyssey, a journey not for the faint of heart, an entrance through the kitchen via the back alley, infinitely harder then getting into the wine business through the front door, and fraught with uncertainty and self-doubt, despite the inherent belief and strength of Midwestern work ethic and values setting the pace in most work environments, cubicle or hose-hauling.

I had the chance to meet Harden, a Midwesterner with the heart of a vintner, via a work colleague, on one of his extended layovers in Indianapolis.  In his mid-twenties, amiable, world-weary, yet confidently expressive in his wine opinions, he is a ’04 graduate of Indiana University.

There is a lot to like about Greg—it is hard not to be taken with a wine person when they casually throw out bon mots noting that they hate wine that, “tastes like a spreadsheet.”

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Over a couple hour period and several Abbey Ale-style beers at a gastropub in Indianapolis, Greg and I chatted about his circuitous path into the business, a journey that is only now just beginning. 

Upon graduation from IU in 2004, Harden was typical of many students in their young twenties—what to do with an education now that the way-station comfort zone of school is over.

Having taken a wine appreciation class prior to graduating, just as thousands of students do, thinking it is a blow-off class to get an easy “A” grade, Harden found that not only did the material come to him with ease, but he had an above-average palate, as well.  He had a palate that his teacher recognized. His teacher urged him to continue down the wine path by taking classes for a Beverage Management Services certificate at the Indianapolis based Indiana and Purdue University city extension (IUPUI). 

With no firm plans upon graduation, Harden came home to Indianapolis with the wine bug.  Taking a job at a local restaurant (Ambrosia), where he managed the wine program, he started the certificate program at IUPUI.

Upon completion of the 24 credit hour certification program, Harden started sending out resumes, dozens of resumes, to West Coast wineries.  In this hyper-connected Web 2.0 world, it is almost anachronistic to send out paper resumes hoping for a response, but a response he got from Kevin Fox, Cellarmaster and Assistant Winemaker at Merryvale. 

Working last year’s harvest, the ’07, Harden picked up and moved out to Napa living in a converted garage in a comfortable housing edition on Skylark Ct.  Living with a couple who open up their home at Harvest time to six or more people each paying $600 a month in rent, Harden lived with other Harvest interns working at some of the finest properties in the Valley—Bouchaine, Plumpjack, Merryvale, amongst others. 

Forget the new reality show, “The Winemakers.” Strangers conjoining in housing in Napa Valley with a similar passionate dream of making it in the wine business are the real reality television.

Fresh off of the Merryvale experience, and emboldened, a period of time in which Harden was soaking up everything and Cellarmaster Kevin was consistently exhorting Greg, “You gotta go home,” Harden wanted to expand his experience internationally.

Communicating with a winery in the Craggy Range area of New Zealand, Greg received a verbal agreement to be a harvest intern, before the Cellarmaster went off the map.

Armed with his airfare, his passport and a Cellarmaster that had not responded to an email in a month, Greg had no choice but to hop the plan for New Zealand hoping that his circumstances worked out, details like not having a place to stay still needing some attendant detail …

Upon reaching the winery, fortune favoring him and his harvest lining up as expected, Greg was again direct to shared housing, this time with a family in less comfortable surroundings—$180 a week includes lodging, food and vehicle usage, a hodge-podge of international folks, like a mini-U.N. meeting with wine as the main focus.

At this point in the conversation, three incredibly strong beers in, I was channeling Eric Arnold’s “First Big Crush,” a book published last year chronicling a crush in New Zealand.  The parallels were similar.

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Harden noted the inherent differences between his Napa crush and the New Zealand crush saying simply that there are, “No small mistakes.”  The combination of heavy machinery, high dollar wine and foreign cultures, under extensive hours with back-breaking labor creates a combustible combination.  While not explicitly stated, the hardship of cultural differences obviously made the NZ harvest more difficult than the California experience, made more difficult when you perceive, “Everybody hates America.”

As the head of the Pinot, Greg made it through his second successful harvest in less than a year.

Returning to the states in early June, as of just a few days ago, Greg was vacillating between taking an Asst. Winemaker position in California and continuing the harvest education, noting that getting a job in the old world was very difficult to do.

I walked away from my conversation with Greg impressed, very impressed.  To a Californian imbued in a more liberalized worldview, it might not seem like much, but Greg’s story, his passion for wine, his joie de vivre to follow his dream and his work toward actuating that dream, against the odds, outside of the mainstream of wine, from Indiana, are all things to view with tremendous respect and commendation for the chutzpah to not let your physical environment and accepted cultural norms dictate your life circumstances.

No desk job and suburban family existence for him, a desire to make great wine, at a very high-level is what Greg wants for himself.  I know Greg to the extent that a few beers provides some insight and a friendly acquaintance, but I can tell you that I wish for him the same success he wants for himself.  I want to see a young Indiana guy, against the odds, despite the circumstances, non-traditionally, find the dream, live the dream and make some great wine.

If you are interested in contacting Greg for a copy of his resume, or more information, send an email to harden.greg - @ - gmail.com



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Comments

On 08/03, Bart Bush wrote:

All our international transaction occurs in USD & not in INR. This occurs no matter whom we trade with. For example we buy crude oil from Saudi Arabia, yet we pay them in $ & not in Rial or INR. Why should we use $ in payment, why not INR or some other country be the trading currency. This not the case with India, all over the world they do this. Other dominant currency is euro. But why should international monetory be controled by rich nations, why not it be poor nation. Why should a fate of one country be decided by other country ?
  .


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