Working in the Napa Valley for a harvest is the dream of most of the young winemakers and viticulturists. Every season, the wineries in the valley open harvest positions for the international people to make an exchange of knowledge and experience. In this sense, Napa Valley has a lot to offer to the people from the wine sector. From the point of view of the winemakers, this gives the chance to discover the secrets of their success, while wineries have the opportunity to have an objective eye on their production.
As a young winemaker, I took this opportunity to make wine in Napa.
The experience I had for the winemaking part was priceless. I collaborated with an amazing vineyard and winemaking team, not only made wine, but also worked for finding ways to improve the quality with experiments. That’s one of the strongest points of Napa, they are always open to experiment and innovate.
Another advantage of working in Napa was the opportunity to visit wineries, attend tastings and meet winemakers and sommeliers. I took every opportunity to get to know one more glass of wine, and the story behind. This is what makes winemaking worth doing.
But apart from winemaking, there were other things I learned, life lessons. As in the case of all travels, this experience had its own challenges. It’s a different state and culture after all, and as a “visitor” it’s important to adapt, and be respectful at all costs. The gift of this respect comes with learning day by day, experiencing different situations, and communicating with many people.
In this blog post, I summarized some of the life lessons I learned during my winemaking experience in Napa. If you are a winemaker, or a wine tourist wishing to visit Napa, this information will be useful to know before travelling.
1) Be patient
As a non-US citizen, it’s required to get a visa to be able to work in the USA. Visa process needs lots of documents and even more patience. Filling forms, sending documents, making payments became a daily exercise during this period. If you ever applied for a visa, you know how difficult and stressful it is. But when you hold your visa in your hand, all the challenge dissolves away. So, it’s important to remind ourselves to be patient.
2) Be aware of frauds
Once you get your visa, it’s a good idea to think about accommodation. Napa is a small town and the places to stay for a short period are quite limited. This in mind, I tried to find a place to stay online before arriving. But that was not easy. In online searching websites, I started to receive messages and e-mails from people who were trying to get me to pay a deposit and send them a scan of my passport. That’s never a good idea. Especially if it’s a listing for an apartment close to the metro station of Napa. A quick Google search would be enough to understand that Napa doesn’t have a subway.
3) Socialize and greet people
After sorting out the paperwork, things move smoother, and you can finally start enjoying and socializing. Meeting new people is the best part of the experience. However, before jumping on to people to socialize, be aware of culture differences while greeting. According to my experience, most of the times when two people meet, they shake hands. Depending on the place and situation, some people prefer to make no physical contact, so you just meet them verbally. To me it was difficult at the beginning, after living in Europe, I became used to hugging and kissing people at least two and sometimes even three times when I met them. There were more than a couple of times I tried to make physical contact during greetings, which ended up very awkwardly. I found peace letting the other person make the first move while meeting people. Keep in mind, it works better.
4) Move around
It’s hard to move around in Napa without a car. Especially going to work everyday in different hours depending on the workload makes it even harder. Buying a car seemed to be the best option, it’s easy to purchase and you can find one in good condition easily.
And what happens when you stay around after work to visit wineries or attend a tasting? The best option for that occasion is calling an Uber. It works perfectly, and you get to know a different person and listen to their stories on the way.
How about pedestrianism? To be honest, that’s not very popular. I’ve only seen people walking downtown, and in most of the places there’s not even a sidewalk.
Finally, how about biking? That could be an option for people with experience of biking in the cities. However, it’s necessary to be careful especially in Silverado Trail where the biking road coincides with the security line.
5) Be careful at the supermarket
There are lots of food options! It’s hard not to be impressed with a variety of foods. If you have a sweet tooth, cupcakes, muffins, pies, cakes, cookies will attract you. Different colors, flavours, fruits, chocolate, cream… If you have a savoury tooth, you’ll be surrounded by chips, charcuterie, cheese… When you’re visiting you want to taste everything available there but be careful not overeating or changing your diet immensely.
Another interesting point at the supermarkets in California was the curious customers and cashiers about what people are buying. People will not hesitate to stop you and comment on the things you’ve bought: ‘Oh, you bought delicious cakes!’ ‘Perfect weather for the soup!’ or ‘This pizza will be your dinner?’
This was the same case at the restaurants. Don’t be surprised if somebody from the table behind points to your plate and orders the same. All these might feel strange in the beginning, but you’ll get used to it, and even enjoy it.
6) Speak Spanglish
Speak English, speak Spanish. But it won’t be enough in California. You need to learn the rules of Spanglish. No worries, it’s not so difficult. For example, you take an English verb and add ‘–ar’ in the end to make a Spanglish verb; ‘have lunch’ turns out to be ‘lonchear’. Or simply you take an English word and change the pronunciation and use it in the sentence as if it was Spanish; winery becomes ‘wineria’, truck becomes ‘trocka’. Sometimes you translate an English proverb literally to Spanish and use it like that; “I will call you back” turns out to be “Te llamaré para atras.” It may take a couple of weeks to figure out how it works, but then it makes it easier to communicate with everyone.
7) Never hesitate and speak up
If you want something, ask for it. Here, it’s the only way you’ll get what you want. It may take a while to understand this, especially if you are coming from a culture where you should be very careful with your requests. But here in California, being hesitating or being shy to ask will not bring you anywhere.
8) Be positive and don’t lose your hope
There are very nice people in Napa. People say hello to each other on the street, they give their blessings to you when you sneeze on the street, they are helpful and they are smiling most of the time. They give importance to the people who come to visit Napa. Even knowing that these kinds of good people still exist helps to keep positive and have hope. I can easily confirm: The world is still a nice place!
These were some of the lessons that I learned in Napa Valley. My experience showed me it wasn’t only about wine. It was also about culture, people and place, coming together and creating a unique atmosphere. I soaked it all and I moved forward. Accepting the challenge of living abroad and adapting to cultural differences taught me a lot about California, but also about myself. If you have a chance to have such an experience, don’t think twice.
All images © 2016 by Wines of Nesli. All rights reserved.