Life as a Winemaker: Randy Ullom

Life as a Winemaker: Randy Ullom

In this installment of 'Life as a Winemaker' will look at one of the benefits of the profession. Working while traveling internationally can be easily achieved with just a little determination and a willingness. You can work 2 harvest's a year, on 6 continents, in dozens of different countries. There are opportunities that range from Harvest Internships to Winemaker positions to Consultants who just fly in to offer their expertise. If you are looking for something like this, check out RateMyWinemaker or WineJobs for information for global positions and opportunities to expand your vineyard experience. Some even see it as a right of passage, especially for those who did not have any background in farming. Randy works both in the roles of consultant as well as winemaker on both hemispheres of the world, so lets find out what bit him with the wine bug.

Randy Ullom

How did you get started in the wine business? What made you decide to become a winemaker?

I grew up watching my father make wine at home as a hobby, but it wasn’t until I spent three years on sabbatical from college in Chile, where I embarked on a cross-country trek through wine country, that I realized I wanted to pursue a career in viticulture and enology.

Do you have a degree in winemaking? Or are you self-taught?

I earned my degree in the field from The Ohio State University in 1975, graduating summa cum laude.

Are there any memories / lessons you learned in your training that have stuck with you?

Yes, pruning during the winters along Lake Erie builds character and makes California look easy! From this, I’ve learned to prune every vine to a balanced bud count. Every vine is different and you need to treat them as such.

How would you describe your winemaking style?

My goal is to make high-quality, approachable wines that maintain consistent quality year over year.

What does your day-to-day actually look like as the winemaker?

It depends on the month and time of year. From November to May I spend 2/3 of my time traveling for the brand and 1/3 tasting our wines. My mid-summer, it’s the opposite. And, of course, during harvest in August, September and October I’m all about the vineyards and grape tasting.

What has surprised you most about being a winemaker?

Learning Mother Nature and history never repeat exactly, and every year is different and exciting. There is never a dull moment!

What is your favorite varietal to work with and why?

Chardonnay – it’s the “the great American varietal.”

In the world of wine, who do you most admire and why? Who influenced you?

I attribute much of my success in the winemaking industry to the late Jess Jackson. He was my mentor both personally and professionally.

How involved do you get in the vineyards?

Quite involved – from once a month visits in the early spring, then ramping up to weekly visits mid-summer and finally being in the vineyards 7 days a week just before and during harvest. It all starts in the vineyard!

Do you have a favorite wine or vintage that you have made?

Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Camelot Highlands Chardonnay. Grown on the hillside above Santa Barbara’s Santa Maria Bench, these ancient vines have struggled through daily dense fog for more than forty years on their own roots, stretching down to the seabed soils below – making this location the “filet of the filet.” The resulting wine is rich and lush on the palate – a liquid meal!

What is one of the hardest things about winemaking year in and year out?

Predicting the precise yields from the various vineyard blocks!

What is one of the most rewarding things about your job?

Watching the smile come to a person’s face as they take a sip of our wine.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?

I am partial to wines from Chile – it’s where my love and passion for the industry was sparked, and it’s my favorite place to visit.

If you could drink wine anywhere, in any region or country, where would it be and why?

I’d start with Burgundy, France for pristine Chardonnays, then race to St. Emillion for a great red with a historic view.

What goals in winemaking are you still working to achieve?

The elusive 100 point wine!