Behind the Scenes: From Grad to Grapes

Choosing Our Topic

About two weeks ago, my group completed our first story about the new Mustang Station on campus and the changes coming to the Cal Poly community now that students 21+ can drink on campus. Come Monday morning, we were all still pretty stumped on what to cover for our next story. While brainstorming during class, Vinny Van Patten pitched what would become our new topic: Cal Poly’s influence on the local wine industry.

We all know Wine & Viticulture students and knew a few people who have graduated and either work in a local winery or have printed labels for the bottles. Our professor Brady Teufel had a few suggestions for sources for us, including his lifelong friend Coby Parker-Garcia, and a group of former Cal Poly students who had created an app that helps the user pair wine with what they’re eating for dinner. Initially, our group decided we wanted to profile different people from the Cal Poly community that are involved with the San Luis Obispo County wine industry. So far our source list contained an older graduate, a current student interning this quarter at a local winery, a professor who’s created labels for bottles and the group of former students who created the app. However, pursuing these different sources proved difficult and we realized that we needed to narrow down our topic to be more specific. After brainstorming again in class the following Wednesday, we made the official decision on our story: to cover Cal Poly graduates’ influence on the local wine industry.

With Arinee Rahman and Brittany Tesmer on broadcast, Katelyn Piziali on print, Vinny Van Patten on multimedia, and myself covering Public Relations, we felt pretty confident on covering our story. I personally was looking forward to getting great footage of the inside of cellars and seeing some of the winemaking process.

Visiting our Sources

The two interviews I accompanied our group to was with Pat Doyle, Cellar Hand at Chamisal Vineyards and to Coby Parker-Garcia, winemaker at Claiborne and Churchill. Our first interview was with an old friend of my boyfriend who graduated Cal Poly in 2014. He studied Business and concentrated in Packaging Logistics. He’s currently the Cellar Hand, or assistant winemaker, at Chamisal Vineyards and was thrilled that we had an interest in the wine industry and was more than willing to talk to us and give us an inside look at his job.

“The graduates were really happy to make an effort to help us with the project, which shows how much they still care about the school and its students” said Vinny Van Patten.

That Friday we carpooled to Chamisal and opened the cellar doors to be greeted by a cellar dog and the sweet aroma of fermenting grapes. Pat walked around with us and explained everything about the duties at the cellar and how he got involved with the wine industry. Pat started off as an intern, and realized how much he loved the people he worked with and the experience of making wine. He described the process of learning how to make good wine as “tasting your mistakes”. We got lots of great interview and B-Roll footage, however editing audio proved to be very difficult. The cellar echoed, and made it difficult to hear Pat during some parts of the interview.


Brittany and Katelyn interviewing Pat Doyle at Chamisal Vineyards in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

“I learned how important planning ahead is. Always check your equipment before you leave the equipment check out place, always have back-up equipment and always always mic up the person you are interviewing no matter what. Camera audio is very difficult to edit and is horrible sounding” Brittany Tesmer said.

The second interview that I attended was with Claiborne and Churchill winemaker Coby Parker-Garcia. The drive to the winery was beautiful, and the flowers and landscaping surrounding the building was very welcoming. He gave us a rundown of what a year in a winemaker’s life looks like.

“During harvest, which is in the fall, we’re picking the grapes, getting the fruit off the vines, processing it, fermenting it, and getting it into either a barrel or tank. Then, the springtime is typically busy bottling a lot of our whites and starting some vineyard work which is getting the vineyards prepped and ready for the upcoming growing season. And in the summertime, we’re bottling some of our reds by the end of summer. Throughout that entire time, we’re trying to sell our wine, hitting the market in different areas throughout California and the US” -Coby Parker-Garcia.

He also told us something we thought was really cool: all full-time employees at Claiborne and Churchill are Cal Poly graduates.

I was really in awe of how passionate each worker was about their job. Seeing how passionate they were on the topic made it more interesting to me than wine ever has been to me before” said Katelyn Piziali.


Katelyn Piziali interviewing Coby Parker-Garcia at Claiborne and Churchill in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

The other graduates we interviewed were David Beress, a winemaker at Stillwaters Winery in Paso Robles, who graduated from Cal Poly in December 2015 with a degree in Wine and Viticulture concentrating in Oenology, and Alejandra Alvarez who interns for Treasury Wine Estates. Alvarez graduated from Cal Poly in June 2016 with a degree in Wine and Viticulture and a concentration in Viticulture.


Grapes at Stillwaters Winery in Paso Robles, Calif.

It was so inspiring to me to see how Cal Poly graduates spread out all over San Luis Obispo County and got involved in the wine industry in different ways. I learned that you don’t need to have former connections or to study Wine and Viticulture in school in order to work in the wine industry.

“I thought it was cool to see how successful people become with a Cal Poly degree. Still Waters’ owner, general manager, winemaker and a lot of people in the tasting room are all Cal Poly grads so it’s cool to see what an impact we can make in a community” said Arinee Rahman.


A shot of the vineyard at Stillwaters Winery in Paso Robles, Calif.

Wrapping Up the Story

I loved covering this topic for the last couple of weeks, and it was really cool hearing about how the university I’m about to graduate from prepares students so well to work in the wine industry, and how interdisciplinary the industry really is. We’re looking forward to seeing our final story and what stories are to come!