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Why Wine? An interview with Denise Shurtleff of Cambria Winery

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Denise Shurtleff of Cambria Winery

This is part of a series introducing you to interesting people in the wine industry. For many, the journey into wine is not only intriguing but often quite an adventure. These talented individuals are what make the wine industry what it is today so follow this series to meet this group of passionate people who have dedicated their lives to wine.

Why Wine? An interview with Denise Shurtleff of Cambria Winery

Was there a specific wine, moment or place that unlocked your passion?

Denise Shurtleff: I don’t know that there was one specific moment that unlocked my passion.  It was more of something that gained momentum the more I was exposed to the winemaking process.  When I started working in my first job as a lab tech, I found the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn even more!  Early on, I was fortunate to work with many smart, motivated, and experienced people who taught me a lot.  The attention to detail in farming and winemaking by these people was impressive and contagious.  They always enjoyed the work they performed and the longer I worked in the winery, the more dedicated I became to my job and the more I enjoyed it. I wanted to keep doing more!

What did you study in school and what were you doing before you started in the wine industry?

DS: I studied Nutrition and Dietetics at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.  I was more interested in getting into the food industry rather than doing clinical work.  I graduated and needed money, so I started working in the tasting room at a winery in San Luis Obispo.  After a couple of months, the lab tech at the winery decided to go to fashion design school, so I interviewed for the position and got hired.

How has being in the wine industry changed you?

DS: It has given me a better appreciation for Mother Nature- we deal with her a lot on the farming side and she certainly affects the way we farm our grapes and eventually treat our grapes in the winery here in Santa Maria Valley.  It has also given me more appreciation for being happy with what I am able to do every day, and how lucky I am to be doing a job that is more of a lifestyle and hobby that just plain “work.”

What’s your favorite part of being in the wine industry?

DS: I love the teamwork aspect of the wine industry.  It takes a lot of people to grow great grapes, make wine in the winery and sell it in the market.  But especially in the winery, it is always a thrill when everybody works in unison to get the daily work done; we consider the team here like family. That means the work gets done the way it was intended to get completed and the resulting wine is even better than you anticipated.

Looking back, was there something in your past that led you to wine?

DS: Perhaps indirectly, but my familiarity with family events (food and wine at holidays, weddings, reunions, etc).  Also, the connection to agriculture – my grandparents were farmers and I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house when I was growing up. Nice memories of fun times!

Click here to read more about Cambria Winery: www.cambriawines.com/

Cambria Winery recently launched the following wines named Benchbreak, named after the dramatic bench on which the vineyards sit:

www.cambriawines.com/wines/2014-benchbreak-chardonnay

www.cambriawines.com/wines/2013-benchbreak-pinot-noir

Read more about the Cambria Seeds of Empowerment program: www.cambriawines.com/seeds-empowerment

Michele Francisco
Michele Francisco, a founder and regular contributor to Winerabble, a blog primarily about Pacific Northwest wines, is living the dream in Portland, Oregon. Her passion leads some to believe she's got wine running through her veins. Contact Michele at michele@winerabble.com & be sure to visit her online portfolio at www.michelefrancisco.com.
  1. Pech Reply

    It’s fascinating how there is a lot of art and nature but also science and nurture to wine!

    • Michele Francisco
      Michele Francisco Reply

      Hey Pech- we feel the same way! And it seems the more we learn, the more we find we don’t know about wine! Happy Friday, Michele

  2. Marlynn @ UrbanBlissLife Reply

    I love what she says about her appreciation for Mother Nature – I always think that must be the most frustrating part of any agriculture business, and I so admire everyone who makes wine! Thanks for this great interview!

    • Michele Francisco
      Michele Francisco Reply

      Marlynn- I just had a conversation a few days ago with a friend who was telling me that she is so much more attune to the weather and can describe each summer and fall since she got into the wine industry but never paid that much attention before. I’m the same way! I too have such an appreciation for both the grape growers and winemakers after seeing the struggles and challenges they face each year. Cheers, Michele

  3. Renee @ The Good Hearted Woman Reply

    One of the common threads I hear from wine makers is their deep appreciation for the things that Mother Nature gives them. And you are spot on in your reply to Pech – the more we learn, the more we find that we don’t know.

    • Michele Francisco
      Michele Francisco Reply

      Thanks Renee! And if you know of any winemakers who might be interested in an interview, please send them my way!

  4. Melissa Chee Reply

    I’m glad you got the chance to do this interview!

    • Michele Francisco
      Michele Francisco Reply

      Thanks Melissa- we always get such positive feedback about our Why Wine interviews! I love learning how people got bitten by the wine bug and it sounds like you do too! Cheers, Michele

  5. Jen Reply

    I have heard “teamwork” comments from many brewers but not from winemakers – glad to see the camaraderie extends to the grape as well!

  6. Carolin Reply

    Thanks for featuring Denise, Michele! In addition to being a great winemaker, she’s truly a wonderful spirit. We’re lucky to have her, and I’m lucky to work with her!

    • Michele Francisco
      Michele Francisco Reply

      Carolin- Her spirit comes through in the wonderful wines she makes too! Thanks for stopping by, Michele

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