Wine educator hitting all the notes at Chaddsford Winery
● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
The rapid rise of Rachel Brown at Chaddsford Winery is the result of what happens when Accident meets Aspiration meets Need.
Before she was hired at the winery three years ago, and before she was named the winery's wine educator last October, Brown, 28, worked for several years at a bookstore near West Chester University, where she had received a degree in creative writing.
Three years ago, the bookstore closed.
On a chance visit with her friend Amanda Massey to the Chaddsford Winery soon after, she met Amanda's mother Sandy, a retail manager at the winery. On the advice of mother and daughter, Brown filled out an application for part-time work.
“Amanda and Sandy said that I should work at Chaddsford, and that I had the perfect personality for it,” Brown said. “I told them, 'I don't like wine. I don't even drink it. I know nothing about it.' Sandy told me, 'We'll teach you.' I took this job literally as something to do until I found my career.”
Within a month, she was assisting with events and filling in wherever and whenever needed, which included conducting wine tastings. In the mean time, Brown absorbed anything she could about the art and science of wine – in books, in articles, at wine tastings, in conversations with winemakers and experts. Soon, Brown became a treasure trove of fun facts about wine, and shared them with her colleagues.
Three years after she began at the winery, what began as a part-time job has now become a full-time pursuit of a chosen career.
“I am so fascinated with learning about wine from different regions of the world,” she said. “I love all of the back stories, such as how a Cabernet Sauvignon that is grown at the top of the slope can have a different taste than the Cabernet Sauvignon that grows at the bottom of the slope. I also enjoy the beautiful dance between the right wine paired with the right food.
“I was so curious and so interested, much more than I thought I would be, because up to that point, I wasn't drinking anything that had a wine base to them. It became all about my need to understand the fermentation process, and understanding why certain grapes have certain personalities and flavor profiles.”
Brown's self-taught passion was quickly noticed by the winery's management. She was asked to spearhead Chaddsford's reserve tour program at the winery, a task that was complimented by her being named the winery's wine educator last October. Throughout the year, Brown will conduct walking tours of the winery, discuss its history, introduce food and wine pairings to visitors and discuss the science of fermentation.
“Not everyone who comes through our doors and has a million questions, but Rachel's thirst for knowledge is unquenchable, and there is no coaching required,” said Chaddsford Winery retail manager Kate Wilson. “It's just a natural trait that she has that owes to her passion to learn more about wine.”
As one of 11 recipients of the Young Leaders Scholarship – that grants conference admission to young professionals – Brown attended the prestigious SommCom in Washington, D.C., a three-day educational conference that brought together industry professionals all over the world to discuss, develop and continue the conversation about the business of wine. Over the course of the conference, she met winemakers, attended tasting panels with experts who discussed how their wines are made.
Brown understands that her role as wine educator and tour guide at Chaddsford Winery is more than just introducing visitors to the the winery's award-winning Harbinger, Sunset Blush, Niagara or Presage, among other varietals. For the novice and even the more knowledgeable wine enthusiast, the big book of wine is an ever-changing and intimidating tome that is nearly almost impossible to navigate.
Brown's role is not just to teach about wines, but to simplify them.
“The first question any of us ask our visitors is, 'What kind of wine do you like to drink?'” she said. “My goal is always to tell people to drink what they want to drink and feel comfortable drinking it. I'm not going to tell people which wines to drink. I'm here to teach you about the wines you are tasting and how you can use them in your life.”
“Here at Chaddsford Winery, we like to get away from that stereotypical presentation that some in the wine industry perpetuate,” Wilson said. “Rachel takes all of this wonderful information that can be extremely overwhelming to both my staff and our customers, and boils it down in an approachable, digestible way.”
Brown is currently studying to become a certified wine sommelier, through classes at the International Sommelier Guild, and online educational program that brings together the resources of the top educators, industry leaders, premier restaurateurs, wine merchants, wineries and writers. In the future, she would also like to compliment her role as a sommelier with a return to her creative writing roots, that will send her on writing assignments at wineries, festivals and conferences all over the world.
“I would really love to immerse myself in this life,” she said.
Upcoming events at Chaddsford Winery will include its annual Harvest Festival on Sept. 7-8, Sept. 14-15 and Sept. 21-22; its Adult Trick or Treat, on Saturdays and Sundays from Sept. 28 to Oct. 27; and its Fall Food Truck Throwdown on Nov. 4. To learn more about the reserve tour wine tasting program at Chaddsford Winery, visit www.chaddsford.com.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.