What do ice skating, cooking, world traveling & teaching have in common?
Michael Westrick Winemaker at Notre Vue Estate Winery
How many winemakers do you know that have ice-skated in Canada, four states in the US, Turkey, Denmark and Thailand? I have! Maybe, because I was born in Toronto, I have a Canadian ice-skating gene in my DNA?
My father worked with the Gulf Oil Company as I grew up, doing exploration work around the globe. My first stop after Toronto was Havana, Cuba. Sadly, I was too young to enjoy this wonderful county. Now being enamored with cooking.
I wish I had been old enough to enjoy the incredible foods of this special island nation.
The next destination was Ankara, Turkey, where I recall enjoying terrific breads. From there on to Copenhagen, Denmark, and my introduction to beer, great cheeses and delicious herring. Bangkok was next on the agenda where I developed my strong fondness for the incredibly aromatic and tasty cuisine of these gracious people.
Then, as I was finishing up high school in Bangkok, it was time to think about college. UC-Davis for winemaking? Not quite yet. The University of Wisconsin-Madison to study microbiology came first. Graduate work followed, along with a ten-year career teaching microbiology.
While Madison might not be the culinary capital of the world, it is where I began to immerse myself in cooking. Its also where I started to seriously taste wines and more wines. And more and more wines. California wines, French wines, Hungarian wines, German, Australian, Italian, on and on and on. To this day, I never tire of tasting new and different wines. I was stunned at how different each country’s wines were from the others. All good with such variations.
I was absolutely amazed at how sublimely wine pairs with foods, both positively and negatively.
During cherry season in Door County in Wisconsin cherry juice is available fresh for a very short period of time. My first hand at winemaking was a cherry wine, it tasted like a beautiful, fruity Zinfandel. Who knew? Not surprisingly, vacation time found me touring Napa and Sonoma wine country, marveling at the beauty of the area and, as always, tasting wines, wines and more wines.
I was very much enjoying learning more and more about cooking and about wines. So much so that I decided one day to quit my microbiology career and to set off to California to become a winemaker or, perhaps, a chef. I was lucky enough to land a harvest position with Hanna Winery in 1989 and that sealed the deal. I would become a winemaker! Another harvest, this time at Hacienda Winery, followed, then a year at UC-Davis studying winemaking formally. Post UC-Davis things really took off with my first full-time winery job as an enologist at Stonestreet Winery which ultimately evolved into a winemaker position there.
In 2005, I began a position overseeing winemaking at Sterling Vineyards where I had to opportunity to work with some of Napa’s finest grapes. A position opened at Notre Vue Estate in 2015, a winery in Sonoma County just two miles from home. I’m making wonderful wines from one of the most beautiful vineyards California has to offer.
And here I am, biking to work
How does all this tie back to ice-skating? I have no idea. But I do know that my international upbringing gave me a broad and powerful appreciation for the foods and the wines of the world. My studies at UW-Madison provided me with a solid background in microbiology, a critical part of winemaking. My teaching career prepared me well for all the public speaking a winemaker does presenting wines and one’s winery to the press, to sales teams and to you the very appreciative public. Ice-skating? Maybe I’m still recovering from the fact that my dear San Jose Sharks are now out of the play-offs.
Wine would have tasted so good out of the Stanley Cup.
There’s always next year. A new season, new hockey, news wines. In the meantime, I’m just livin’ the dream. Literally!