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Timothy Keith of Leaf & Vine Wines – Spotlight on a Drink Careers 101 Project Advisory Board Member



Today Mutineer Magazine is pleased to present Drink Careers 101 Project Advisory Board member and winemaker Timothy Keith of Leaf & Vine Wines.

You may know Timothy Keith from when we featured him in our “What People Drink” column this past year, or perhaps from his fantastic harvest beard videos. Besides making awesome videos on beard evolution, the micro-winery owner also makes delicious sauvignon blanc, petite sirah, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel at his Treasure Island location.

How did you get started in the wine industry?

Like many 18-year-old humans that populate this great planet of ours, I had no clue what I was doing, what I wanted to do, and how I would ever figure out something to do. I spent a year of my life after graduating from high school basically spinning my wheels, contributing very little to the progress of mankind. Thankfully a more driven and accomplished life force was available to this listless individual. Edward Keith was my grandfather, and his influence shifted my trajectory towards the great industry of grape growing and eventually instilled some of his drive into me, and my goals of becoming a winemaker.

After a year and a half living with the powerhouse of energy and enthusiasm that was Ed Keith, I was able to transfer to the University of California Davis and pursue a degree in Viticulture and Enology. In 2004, with degree in hand I entered the job market, and as a good friend and fellow winemaker once told me as I was getting started, it was time to eat the “shit sandwich.” This industry is about paying dues, developing a craft and a skill set; a degree goes a long way but building on experience and creativity are vital for enduring the process of working your way through the ranks.

The glamour of this job will wear off very quick if you can’t appreciate 80-hour workweeks, wet feet, and wrecked hands. With all of that said, there are very few things in this life better than tasting a wine that you worked on; that sense of fulfillment is what makes you endure, and ultimately why I got into this industry.

What is your fondest memory while working in the wine industry?

I’ve been a “professional” in this industry since 2004. I’ve worked in different countries, with fantastically talented men and women that have inspired me to be better at my craft. Fond memories are ample and often when you do what inspires you and September the 21st, 2010 was that transcendent moment in my life. This was the moment when I finally felt like I was doing what I truly loved. Standing at the top of the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County, sun setting and I had just got off the phone with Isy Borjon scheduling our pick for our Quartz Block Zinfandel from Story Vineyards. I’ve made this call many times before but this was the first time I had made that call for the harvesting of grapes that would go to my own brand, my own wine, where the stakes couldn’t be any higher, and while standing there I just felt warm. Not just because it was 90F.

What is the weirdest thing that has happened to you in the wine industry?

At any moment if you think you know what you’re doing, and you start to move too fast in this business, you will make a mistake. Brief question, what do you get when you add ammonia salts and free amino acids to a rolling 30-ton white wine ferment? Mt. Vesuvius in waiting. I’m not sure if this is what the question was going after but the weirdest moment I’ve ever seen in the wine industry is watching a winemaker, with 30 years of experience add yeast nutrients to a very large ferment at a far too rapid rate. The resulting foam and wine explosion could be seen from the tasting room about two football fields away. Did it happen to me, no, but it is a constant reminder that if you think you know what you’re doing in this business, and you start too move to fast, you will make mistakes; no matter how long you’ve been doing it. But yeah, it was weird, funny, and tragic all at the same time.

If you had one piece of advice for a student considering a career in wine, what would it be?

Pace yourself, there’s no A to B in this business, and the destination will change as you change … and you will change, so embrace it.

Follow Timothy here on Twitter or on Facebook.

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