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A Crush on Napa: A January Internship at Bin to Bottle

Student Focus

By Andrea Elmore

Bin to Bottle
Stacey Moskwa ’14 and Chelsea Gallup ’13 at Bin to Bottle’s Napa Valley winery.

Two Cornell Viticulture and Enology majors headed to California in January for a unique internship experience.  Chelsea Gallup '13 and Stacey Moskwa '14 spent two and a half weeks at Bin to Bottle Winery, a state-of-the-art custom crush winemaking facility in Napa Valley.  This is the third year that Bin to Bottle developer and managing partner and Cornell alumnus John Wilkinson '79 has welcomed Cornell interns over winter break.

As a custom crush winery, Bin to Bottle produces wines for clients who lack or have insufficient facilities for producing the wines themselves. Clients provide the grapes, other materials, and a consulting winemaker, but the winemaking tasks – from sorting the grapes to barrel-aging to labeling the finished wines – are performed by Bin to Bottle. For Gallup and Moskwa it was a crash course in large-scale winemaking: their first task was to snap on safety harnesses to clean out two 3,000 gallon tanks filled with pomace from a just-finished Cabernet Sauvignon fermentation.  Over the next two and a half weeks they participated in almost every aspect of cellar operations, from taking samples for lab analysis to filtering and bottling wine, and were struck by the rigorousness of wine production at Bin to Bottle.

Cleaning out Tank
Stacey Moskwa ’14 cleaning out a 3,000 gallon tank of Cabernet Sauvignon.

"Because Bin to Bottle is a custom crush facility, clients' winemakers are not on site and are often relying on lab analyses to make decisions about what to do next," said Gallup. "Everything at Bin to Bottle is about checking, double checking, triple checking, and sometimes even more checking, which is a good thing when it comes to wine."

The custom crush business model was also a new experience. 

"I was very intrigued by the idea of a custom crush facility," says Moskwa.  "There's not an equivalent in Upstate New York, so I was excited to see how the business was laid out and whether or not I thought I would be interested in seeking out that type of operation for employment opportunities in the future."

Since neither Moskwa or Gallup had worked in Napa Valley before, the internship also provided an opportunity to learn about winemaking challenges less common in New York wineries, such as stuck fermentations resulting from grapes with very high sugar concentrations.

"Because the grapes can stay on the vine late into the season, Napa sees much higher sugar levels than one would find in the Finger Lakes, but high sugar means more alcohol is produced during fermentation. If alcohol levels get too high it can kill the yeast in a wine before the fermentation is complete," said Moskwa. "The experience made us really confident with re-inoculating stuck fermentations."

Measuring Acidity
Chelsea Gallup ’13 measuring volatile acidity in barrel samples.

They also had the chance to visit other wineries and meet local winemakers with the help of Wilkinson, who makes his own wine at the family ranch, Wilkinson Family Vineyards. A highlight of the visits was a private tour of Opus One by internationally regarded winemaker Michael Salacci. They also saw a range of sizes from the small, family owned Whitehall Lane Winery to Sutter Home, one of the largest family-run independent wineries in the United States. 

"The scale of this winery was stunning, with tanks so big that you could fit about five freshmen dorm rooms inside the tanks." said Gallup. "It gave me an appreciation of why its owner, Trinchero Family Estates, was awarded the Wine Spectator's Distinguished Service Award for having introduced more Americans to wine on the table than anyone in history."

 Though short, the internship's fast pace and long days was a formative learning experience.

 "I enjoyed the hands on experience in the winery, and getting to know the people that worked within it," said Gallup.  "The most exciting part was knowing we had new challenge every day."   

To read more about Chelsea's and Stacey's internship: http://blogs.cornell.edu/vien-interns/

Bin to Bottle website: http://www.bintobottle.com/index.html

Andrea Elmore is the undergraduate coordinator for the Viticulture and Enology Program.