FoodGrads Podcast Ep 24: Breaking down the wine making process with Katrina Pukitis Winery Laboratory Technician at Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery
On episode 24 of the FoodGrads podcast I interviewed Katrina Pukitis, Winery Laboratory Technician with Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate. Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery produces a wide variety of wines which include Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and so so much more more. What is exciting about them is that their estate also serves as a research centre dedicated to maximizing fruit quality by tracking the impact of different clone and rootstock combinations, pruning techniques, soils and climatic conditions on the range of grape varietals – pretty cool.
On this episode Katrina and I covered a lot of topics which include learning more about Jackson-Triggs and their line of products. Katrina gave me the low down on the general process of wine making and threw in a little bit of science for me to understand how grapes turn into wine. We also dived into her career journey learning about her path and how she got to where she is today, what she does for her job and some of skills developing today.
Overall, this is a great conversation and I learned so much about wine. Katrina is really good at explaining things in a way that is easy to understand. She also rounds out the episode with really good advice students need to hear if they are going into the food industry. I think the advice even applies to those more seasoned in the industry.
[2:38] Could you tell me more about Jackson Triggs and their line of products and what you do there?
Katrina works at the Niagara estate winery and are located in Niagara-on-the-Lake. They supply to the LCBO but also create some special wines which are only at the winery. Jackson Triggs also has sparkling wines, table wines and a small amount ice wines
[3:52] Can you tell me more about the process of how sparkling wines are made?
There are two methods to create sparkling wine. Both methods start with making a table wine. The first method is Charmat basically it means that you take the base wine and put it in a pressurized tank to put the bubbles into the wine. Alternatively, you add yeast to the liquid in a tank.
A more traditional method is that you take the base wine add the yeast to the bottle and whole fermentation process is added to the bottle
[6:23] Can you tell me more about your career story and how it led you to working at Jackson Triggs as Quality Control technician?
Katrina’s journey started with an undergraduate degree at Western University for Nutrition and Dietetics. During the time Katrina wasn’t really interested in going the nutrition path. Instead in her forth year she did some research for programs related to wine. After enjoying the atmosphere
She came across Brock and their Viticulture Institute. They offer a full undergraduate program in wine but if you have a science background you can skip them and only focus on the winemaking courses. During the program you are required to do a co-op but because of COVID things didn’t happen and instead Katrina took a position as a wine harvester in the fields.
When trying to figure out what to do after graduation it Katrina wanted t find something that was tied to agriculture because it was important to her. Brock even offers Masters and PhD programs in wine viticulture.
Niagara College also offers a similar wine program. There is a lot of opportunities in the wine industry.
[11:27] What type of test do you do as a QC on a daily basis?
Being a lab tech can mean different things depending on the winery you work at. Katrina works in a small lab so it involves testing and running/ organizing the lab. Tests are analytical like pH, titratable acidity, sugar content, alcohol and sulphur tests. Sulphur protect microbobally. There are also stability test to make sure that wine are heat and cold stable. Sometimes wine maker might need to make small additions which involve doing a small test before hand.
Katrina also does quality control issues like looking at labels, checking corks and screws.
[15:51] Can you tell me more about the wine making process in the context of how Jackson Triggs does it?
Wine comes from grapes so they are at the whim of when they are ripe. The wine maker and vineyard managers will make a decision that the grapes are ready. The grapes are harvested and they are squished and the stems and leaves are removed. All of this goes into a press which leaves the juice. For white wine you do the pressing right away to keep the clear colour. This will than go into a white wine fermentation tank. Yeast is added to the process so the yeast will eat the sugar and produce ethanol. Red wine is similar but the skins are what give it the colour.
Fermentation have a bit of a mind of their own because yeast are alive. Temperature is a good way to control how long a fermentation goes on for.
[21:22] Is the wine making process seasonal or does it only happen for a short period of time?
As a harvest intern you pick the grapes in the fall. Usually you bring on staff in the fall to help harvest the grapes and harvest it. Ice wines have the grapes picked in November and December. The spring time is quieter in the wine making area but in the spring the wine makers are busy in the field preparing everything. It is a great job for a contract jobs for students to see if they enjoy winemaking. It is great for traveling too where people can even fly to New Zealand and work for a few months and then come back.
[24:02] How did you come across the intern job at Jackson Triggs?
Katrina found it through a job website but Brock University also offers positions on their website. Sometimes the governing bodies will take on co-op students like the Vineyard Association or Vendors Quality Alliance (VQA)- they are the governing body for setting regulations in Canada.
[27:12] What do you love about your job?
Every day is a little different due to the seasonality of the job. Katrina is up on her feet sometimes in the lab or helping to with the winemakers. It is very hands on and the day is almost never what you think it is going be.
It is hard work to make wine so you get a lot of people are passionate about what you do. It is great to be a part of a team where everyone is willing to pull their weight?
[28:50] Is there any skills that you are working on right now or looking to improve on?
Katrina is looking to improve her formal wine tasting skills. There is a whole program called WSET where you can become a sommelier. You can learn how to taste wine and about the different wine regions. As well, looking to improve her lab and technical skills.
[32:27] Do you have any recommendations for wines?
Jackson Triggs wines. Ontario has great sparkling wines and Rieslings. Reds like Cabernet is nice in Ontario. The best way to drink wine depends on the type you are consuming
What about for Jackson Triggs? Entourage Rouge– it is a red sparkling wine. Katrina likes it really cold and it is nice to pair with a cheese board. Fruit is really nice as well. This wine is able to hold up against really strong flavours.
[36:07] Why is the food and beverage industry a great place to work?
There is opportunity to a lot of careers with in the industry. You can work on the line or in accounting. It endlessly interesting. You can fall into it from any walk of life. It is a melting pot of cool people.
[39:07] If you could give advice to a new graduate or student looking to go into what you are doing what advice would you give?
Don’t rush. Katrina felt a lot of pressure that she needed to know the next step. Sometimes just following what you find interesting or what you don’t like is the guidance you need. Your young and you have your whole life ahead of you. Don’t have regrets and just give things a try unless you give it a try.
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