During an early midlife crisis, Craig Boyd ’82 thought making wine sounded like a fun job. He knew very little about wine and almost nothing about what being a winemaker entailed, but he took the leap and has now spent almost three decades in the wine business.
Boyd majored in chemistry at W&J and started his career as a project engineer at Westinghouse. However he grew bored in his position and switched from engineering to marketing. As he started going out and entertaining clients, he was driven to learn more about the wines he was ordering.
The more he learned, the more he became fascinated with the complex process of making wine. Boyd made multiple attempts to get into University of California Davis, one of only three graduate schools in the nation to offer a program in oenology, the study of wine, at the time. Once accepted, Boyd quit his job and moved across the country from Florida to California to pursue his dream.
“I’ve been in love with it ever since,” he said.
As a graduate student in his late 20s, Boyd was motivated and ready to learn but he lacked the practical wine knowledge of many of his classmates who had worked in vineyards or grown up in the industry.
“I get a chuckle every now and then going back and looking at my notes because everything is spelled wrong,” Boyd said.
After graduation, his first job was at a small winery run by a self-taught winemaker.
“We learned a lot from each other. I taught him all the book stuff and he taught me all the practical stuff where the book stuff just didn’t really apply,” Boyd said.
For the last 28 years, Boyd has been living the life of a vagabond wine maker. He has worked at small wineries in California, New York, and South Dakota. Most recently, he was the winemaker and vineyard manager at Alcantara Vineyards in Cottonwood, Arizona. In June, he began a new position as winemaker at Montaluce Vineyards in Dahlonega, Georgia, near Atlanta, a job that will bring him closer to family in the area.
Boyd has seen a lot of changes in wine culture during his career. Consumers have branched out from only drinking wines from Sonoma or Napa and the American palette has switched from sweet to dry.
“The biggest challenge is learning the palette of the customer,” Boyd said. “I love to make wines that I like to drink but I don’t buy enough wine to keep us in business. I had to learn how to make wine for people on the other side of the tasting bar.”
He has also seen the industry grow significantly.
“Back when I started, there were only about 2,000 wineries in the entire country so it was actually very difficult to get a winemaking job. Now there are almost 10,000. There are wineries in every state,” Boyd said.
There’s less competition among wineries than people might think. Boyd said that the better the wine is in a region, the better for all the wineries involved. If a visitor has a bad experience with one winery, they are less likely to go to the next winery down the street. Vineyards often share knowledge and resources so they all prosper.
“It’s a very small industry. I still have classmates from Davis that I keep in touch with,” he said.
A typical day for Boyd can be spent in the vineyard, in the lab, checking the barrels, behind the bar interacting with customers, selling with the marketing representative, or doing a little bit of everything.
“A lot of people think that all we do is sit around and drink,” he said. “That’s really not the case at all.”
Having the freedom to choose what he feels like doing each day is one of the things Boyd relishes about his job. For the most part, Boyd says there aren’t a lot of deadlines, with bottling and harvest being the two exceptions.
The hardest aspect of the harvest is deciding when to pick the grapes, Boyd says. There are several chemical measurements to consider as well as physiological factors, but after years of experience he has his own determining factor.
“I won’t pick a grape until it tastes right to me. Even if the chemistry is wrong, if it tastes right I will pick it,” Boyd said.
What started out as a whim led Boyd to a path he’s never questioned.
“I get up in the morning and can’t wait to get to work,” he said.
Boyd’s ultimate goal is to make good wine that people want to drink. His criteria for a good wine is simple: after you finished the first glass, did you want a second?