If you have visited the winery over the last few years, chances are you have either met and chatted about wine with Richard, or he was busy behind-the-scenes making some of your favourite wines. In between the craziness of bottling and getting ready for the season ahead, we stole a few minutes with Richard to chat about how he ended up as the Assistant Winemaker at Traynor Vineyard, and how he is enjoying his journey in the world of wine so far.
HTB: Tell us a little about your background in wine and hospitality.
RN: I started working as a food runner at The Drake in Wellington during the summer of 2016. I eventually became a server and trainer, while also working at other restaurants in the County part-time. It all accumulated when I helped a friend open a restaurant and finally, fell into a job at Traynor at the end of 2018.
In terms of my wine specific experience and training, I have completed WSET II and CMS certification. I've had so many amazing mentors along the way including fellow servers, managers, wine makers and sommeliers which have brought me to this point of my career.
HTB: What brought you to the County?
RN: I actually grew up in Belleville, so a lot of my friends lived in Picton and Wellington. When looking for work, The Drake just made sense. It was already in my backyard and making the move to the area just came naturally.
HTB: We like to joke that you’re Mike Traynor’s right-hand man, you seem to have a great working relationship — how did you two meet?
RN: I knew Mike from my time at The Drake, but the conversations that lead us to get to know each other were at The Courage Bar. I It was a local restaurant in Wellington — it’s no longer in business — but this spot has had a lasting impression on Traynor Vineyards since they were a part of Mike's first venture into the world of Pét Nats.
HTB: Small world (County Life). So what made you finally make the switch from hospitality and serving to the world of wine and winemaking?
RN: It wasn't so much a switch as it was the next step in my personal evolution. I didn’t have a clear direction of where I wanted to end up, but I have followed my interests and that has really proven to be a successful method for me so far!
HTB: So how long have you been at Traynor now and what is your role there?
RN: This upcoming summer will be my third at Traynor. I am the assistant winemaker and tasting bar supervisor, but as you can probably guess, I also wear many hats. My job description changes with the seasons — you will find me serving guests, packing orders, working on the vines, wine production, and bottling. Shockingly, I actually spend most of my time cleaning and reorganizing boxes.
HTB: You sound like you get to experience a bit of everything, the upside of working at a small winery! What are some of the most interesting things you have learned while working at the winery over the past few seasons?
RN: How much time do you have? I've learned I find every small aspect of wine production interesting. The biggest lesson I had to learn was that harvest is a fun and idyllic part of a larger portion of the year that we call post-harvest — the fermentation and storage of our wines. This two-month period is when the wines go from sweet grape juice to alcoholic goodness. It's a lot of physical work to process that year's harvest, and the payoff generally doesn't show until at least the next summer and in some cases, years later.
HTB: You might have just answered this, but what are the most challenging parts about working at a winery?
RN: The most difficult part of the business for me is the long-term time scale of a winery. So much of the work we put in now, we won't see payoff for months or years into the future. In the vineyard, we are ensuring the vines are pruned well to bear fruit for decades. In the winery, we need to give our wines the appropriate time to age. Mike has taught me if you don't know what to do; give it some time, let it age, and often, that will solve your problems.
HTB: That’s a philosophy to live by. On the other side of things — what are the most rewarding parts about working at a winery?
RN: The day you put a wine into bottle and the first bottle of that wine you sell. We start bottling days by tasting what we are about to bottle, and it feels so satisfying seeing a full pallet of wine bottled and stored away ready to sell.
HTB: You have a few harvests under your belt now — what has surprised you most since learning more about winemaking?
RN: All of the work between picking the grapes and putting the wine into bottle. I think for better or worse, the wine industry has built a wall so that the consumer doesn't really see or understand the production phase of winemaking. From fermenting to aging, there are a lot of choices that happen that end up dictating the final product that I have learned along the way.
HTB: Do you have a favourite season at the winery? What is it and why?
RN: The best time at the winery has to be harvest, right? It's long hours, hard and dirty work, but that's when it feels like the work for the last year starts to bear fruit, literally! Seeing other winemakers and vineyard workers during harvest (usually in town grabbing coffee and snacks for the team) and having that acknowledgement of the struggle to get it all done is a special feeling that is hard to explain.
HTB: What do you think makes Prince Edward County so unique in the wine world and why people are genuinely excited about its growth?
RN: PEC still feels wide open in potential. From my experience, producers are open to try new things and experiment. Above all of that, PEC is a community — winemakers and restaurants communicate and collaborate. COVID-19 has definitely changed how we interact, but wineries talking to each other and problem solving together is still very much a key component to what makes the County so special.
HTB: Any predictions for 2021 wine trends based on future releases or consumer behaviour over the last year?
RN: I think the expansion of bottle shops has changed the game. Bottle shops are focused on different wines than what restaurants look for. Uniqueness, a story behind the wine and label will sell more as opposed to restaurant sales where a strong tasting note could do the job for you.
HTB: Alright, we have to know — what is your current favourite Traynor wine and why?
RN: Honestly, my favourite wine is whatever I worked on most recently, which right now is our new Pinot Gris. Compared to some of our more unique styles, it may not seem as special, but it still provided its own challenges. The result was the perfect Pinot Gris by my definition; easy drinking and high alcohol!
HTB: Favourite food and wine pairing of all time?
RN: I am generally a dry wine drinker, but have recently been finding the expansive sweet wine world so interesting. Port or sherry styles, vermouths, Lillet, Tokaji Aszu and so much more. The best part about sweet wine is they pair with any candy or chocolate. Old port and chocolate, vermouth and marshmallows, sherry and Twizzlers; pair sweet with sweet and experiment — the combinations are endless.
HTB: Any advice for those looking to start a career in winemaking or getting hands on experience on a vineyard?
RN: This is going to sound obvious, but go into a winery and ask if they are hiring. Wineries and vineyards are generally seasonal, so they will constantly be looking for new staff. The best way to learn if you love it is getting right into it and experiencing what kind of work it is.
For real time updates, including all of the new releases Richard has been busy bottling, be sure to check the winery out on social media @traynorvineyard.