Creating the perfect wine is a matter of science for Megan Gunderson Paredes.
She brings degrees in biochemistry and molecular genetics to her job as winemaker for California’s WALT Wines, which claims the most modern production process in all of Napa Valley.
Laboratory tests and technical advancements are gradually supplementing traditional winemaking methods and using her scientific background as an aid to the natural process has been a formula for producing such highly rated Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that Megan has won a reputation as one of the best in her profession.
“Many people told me that in order to be a winemaker, I needed a degree in winemaking. I like a challenge and set out to prove them wrong,” she told ENTITY.
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“You need meticulous attention to detail throughout the growing season and I also feel the need to push the envelope through the use of technology – minute changes can have a huge impact on the resulting wine.”
One such innovation is WALT using weather stations to send information over the internet about the weather in any given part of the vineyard. That means if the temperatures are dipping too much during a critical stage, frost protection can immediately be sent out to save the vines.
Satellite photography is also being introduced in order that the leaves on different vines can be examined so each root can be watered differently if that’s what it takes to improve the quality of the grapes.
Despite all these available advancements, Megan still puts most emphasis on old school hands-on methods, producing natural nuances during the growing process to maximize flavor.
She had originally planned a career in medicine until figuring out, during a wine enthusiasts trip to Napa, that creating wine was a true passion. Her other passion is family, and finding the balance between work and life with her husband and three daughters is another challenge Megan seems to be winning.
“Winemaking is a very demanding job, especially during harvest which means working 12-14 hour days. Everything else takes a backseat at that time, including family,” she said. “That means my parents coming to stay and lending a hand and I’m lucky to have great daycare and preschool for the little ones,” added Megan, whose children are aged one, four and 17, and whose husband, Juan, is a manager at another winery nearby.
“My main life balance challenges are mostly logistical. Sometimes I’ll bring my kids to work. They really enjoy being at the winery and in the vineyards. I hope I can inspire them to do great things with their lives.”
Megan is certainly living her dream in overseeing winemaking from WALT’s portfolio of vineyards spanning 1,000 miles across the Pacific coast, while checking the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and other scientific factors that all go into the process.
“Having a background in science gave me an ‘in’ to the wine business because it qualified to me to work in a wine laboratory, which became a gateway to winemaking for me. Having started there I came into the industry with an open mind and an eagerness to learn.”
That was back in 2001 and having worked her way up into become a leading winemaker she now says, “My message to others with a dream is to work hard and don’t ever give up.” She advises anyone wanting to follow her into the wine business to try local and global wines at every opportunity. “You need a great palate. Exposing your palate to new aromas and flavors will help to inspire and educate your senses.”
The greatest inspiration for Megan came from various travels throughout her life to the French wine region of Burgundy. “That exposed me to the history of winemaking. They have been making wine there for over a thousand years and have had all that time to determine what grows best and where. Their attention to detail and total love of the land was very inspiring for me.”
Megan added, “Winemaking is a learned art form – you need to work with many great mentors before you are qualified to create wine on your own. I’m so lucky to now have the opportunity to create something really special and memorable.”
Learn more about Megan at www.waltwines.com
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