What do a florist, a corporate event planner, and a senior technology consultant all have in common? They share a love of wine so profound that it has compelled them to embark on a serious exploration of how simple grapes transform into a refined fermented beverage. The adventure begins in a classroom at South Seattle College’s Northwest Wine Academy (NWWA). According to Jennifer Hurley, Enologist for the winemaking program at the school, “The students have the most diverse backgrounds but all have a love for wine and an interest in the industry. Every year, the wine production program is full of great students and that’s a wonderful thing, particularly for the Washington wine industry.” Jennifer herself started out on a different career path. Here, she answers our questions about her journey to the world of wine.

WBW: What was your career prior to the wine industry?
JH: I have an engineering background with a doctoral degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Cincinnati. My academic research was focused on the use of nanomaterials for cardiac regeneration. During my doctorate studies, I spent my time doing research in the cell culture lab as well as writing scientific publications and grants.

WBW: Why did you consider the wine industry?
JH: I moved to Seattle in 2012 to be closer to family and for my husband’s work. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to really think about what I wanted to do career wise and traditional academic roles just didn’t feel right to me. I already had an interest in wine, mostly from just visiting wineries and wine country on vacation and of course from drinking wine with friends and family. I was out wine tasting with friends in SODO one day and Tom Stangeland at Cloudlift Cellars mentioned the Northwest Wine Academy at South Seattle College and I decided to sign up for classes.

WBW: How did you transition into the wine industry?
JH: I started classes at NWWA in the summer of 2013, starting with just Sensory Evaluation and Intro to Enology. I figured that if nothing else, I would end up more knowledgeable about one of my favorite hobbies. I ended up loving the classes and just kept going with the winemaking courses for the rest of the academic year. The next summer I joined the school on a field trip to Northern Spain and Portugal where I completely “geeked” over the different wineries and winemaking styles and I knew there was no going back. I spent the 2014 harvest in the wine production courses as a student and now serve as the Enologist for the program.

WBW: Describe your job as Enologist.
JH: The NWWA is the first teaching winery in the Puget Sound region, and the students are involved in the winemaking process from the vine to the bottle. As the Enologist, I work closely with the Winemaker and the Cellarmaster to ensure that the students are actively learning about all aspects of the winemaking process. My focus is primarily on the wine science, so in addition to teaching the students the various laboratory techniques needed for the industry, I also supervise their work on the wines being made, including fermentation checks, fining trials, blending trials, etc. As a working winery, the lab work is primarily focused on the wine in the cellar so every day is different. This keeps us on our toes, especially since we try to keep all the work within class times and also primarily performed by students to best facilitate the learning experience.

WBW: What best prepared you for this enology job?
JH: The winemaking coursework at NWWA definitely best prepared me for my role as Enologist. Not only did I get to study wine and the winemaking process in the classroom, I was also able to spend a harvest getting hands on experience making wine before venturing out into the industry. After my studies, I felt very comfortable working as a lab intern at a large local winery, as well as coming back to work at NWWA in my current role.

WBW: What has most surprised you about the wine industry?
JH: I am always surprised by how much fun I have on a daily basis! I spend my time talking about wine and science with other like-minded folks, and I love that! Also, I always find that the more I think I know, the more there is to learn. I love that too, because I’m a big believer in lifetime learning.

WBW: Do you have advice for someone entering the wine industry?
JH: I would recommend taking classes at NWWA! It’s great to have some knowledge under your belt when you’re trying to get into a new industry. I would also recommend possibly working or interning at a few different wineries, to really expose yourself to the differences between winery sizes and winemaking styles to really find your best fit.

Nancy Croisier is an enthusiastic advocate for exploring the world of wine. She holds the prestigious designation of Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) from the Society of Wine Educators, and has graduated from the Northwest Wine Academy with expert training in wine and food pairing, as well as wine sales and marketing. She specializes in bringing wine brands and consumers together. Follow Nancy’s wine and food adventures on Twitter and Instagram:  @NancyFeasts.