Saturday, February 21, 2009

Working at Kamil Juices I

“How much wine can one burnt-out, overeducated, underemployed man make?”

That’s how I ended my last post, and I’ll answer that question here. The short answer: several tons.

As per part 1. of my exit strategy for my PhD (yes, I did use the inevitable joke / comparison to the 43rd president of the U.S.A. and a certain middle-eastern conflict), I needed to find a job to pay the bills very quickly. The economic situation in Guelph in late August of 2008, at least as far as I could tell, was that many low-paying jobs were available. Minimum wage is actually significantly higher than what I was making per-hour as a graduate student, and I knew I could get by on a McJob if it came to that. The University of Guelph operates a service to assist students and alumni in finding employment. It’s not set up for drop-outs like me, but I didn’t have any problems accessing the system. The services include a job listing for local businesses in need of workers, potentially drawn from the student body.

Among the job listing was one from Kamil Juices, a wine-making-shop I’d heard of before but never visited. The ad said the application deadline was the Friday following the Monday or Tuesday when I first saw it, so I re-wrote my resume a couple of times (downplaying the bits about microspectrophotometry, boosting the parts about positive interpersonal interactions) and planned to drop by the Friday afternoon. The weather was lovely, and I rode my bike from campus for the last time, taking a different route to the eastern edge of the city and the unfamiliar shop. I also planned to drop off resumes at several other establishments, most of which had closing deadlines the following week.

Only slightly out of breath from the ride down Victoria road, I walked into Kamil Juices and handed my resume to Allison. She and I talked for a few minutes, and when I told her I’d made several batches of wine at home, she told me that was really good and gave me a quick tour of the facilities. Unlike the other wine shops I’d been in as a customer, this place was quite large, without the cramped feeling that so many other independent retail shops have. The owner of the business was not in on that Friday afternoon, so Allison told me she’d pass on my resume and I should expect to hear from them early next week.

About 10 minutes after I got home, my phone rang. Allison had called the owner, Jerry, and had booked me for an interview Monday morning at 10:30; the store opens at 10:00 on Mondays, so this would give Jerry time to settle in before speaking with me. “Cool”, thought I, “One resume in and I’ve already got an interview”. Then Allison told me to plan on staying all day, for if the interview went well I’d probably be hired on the spot. Seems nobody else who had applied for the job had any previous wine-making experience at all.

I was in the process of packing up to head down to Hamilton to spend the weekend with Carlo when she’d called; when I arrived at McMaster University I told Carlo that I might already have a job. We spent the weekend profitably, and Monday morning I rode my bike back out to the wine shop.

Jerry turned out to be already operating under the assumption I’d be working for her; after the short and rather informal interview she formally offered me employment at her store, then it was straight to work. Mondays are filter days at Kamil Juices; all of the wine that is to be bottled by customers that week is filtered and made ready for the customers. They are telephoned, and book appointments to bottle the wine batches they had purchased and started some 6 weeks previously. I was put to work racking wine and setting up the order of filtration. My previous hobby experience with sucking on hoses, plus my longer-ago experience with aquaria, came in useful right away, and I only ended up consuming about a glass worth of wine, total, all day by accident. Insert joke here.

I’ll describe working at the wine shop more fully in a later post, where I can really get into the details and provide the shameless plugs to my former employers (they were great to me, and to their customers, but I might be biased; still, the wine is good and I had a good time). In outline, I worked for Kamil Juices for 4 months, from late August to mid-December 2008. During that time, I was personally responsible for the production of somewhere in the neighbourhood of 6 tons of wine, or around 8000 bottles; quite literally buckets of the stuff at a time. I still can’t quite believe how rapidly I was employed, nor how good that job was for me at that time. I needed something to do, both for the obvious financial reasons and to get past the mental discombobulation of the end of my PhD, and making wine for happy, friendly people was a near-perfect fit. I could have been flipping burgers, but carboys are much more interesting.

18 comments:

Carlo said...

Well, at least that turned out to be a significant positive in an otherwise negative experience. I have to admit that working for a U-brew wine place is far better than the four months I spent as a night-shift supervisor at Shopper's Drugmart after my M.Sc...

Mike said...

I'm glad you found that job - it's resulted in my basement being turned into a small scale winery! Yum!

TheBrummell said...

Indeed, a positive experience both for myself and for my friends (and relatives who recieved some free wine produced at that job). At least, nobody has lodged any serious complaints about my wine, some livestock commentary on the Ontario Gewuertztraminer notwithstanding.

Carlo said...

I'm sorry man, but I fed that Gewuertztraminer to a few people and they all universally hated it. Given that I've quite enjoyed all of your/our other wine making efforts, I'm pretty sure the problem is with the wine, not you.

TheBrummell said...

Yeah, I suppose I won't get in too much trouble if I tell you about the Gewuertz.

Briefly, this is Ontario-grown wine. The juice came to us in the fall, after harvest. We sold 6 varieties of Ontario grape juice last fall. We based sales on pre-orders, in which customers placed their name and phone number on a list with their requested variety of juice, and how much they'd like. Prices were similar to the European grape juices we normally stocked.

The Ontario juices arrived at different times, based on the different harvest dates of the different grape varietals. All seemed well upon receipt. I've had some really good gewuertztraminer in the past, including some excellent examples from the Niagara region of Ontario (which is where our juice came from, too). So I signed up for a batch (employee discounts are good).

Around the end of fermentation, we noticed some unusual odors from a few of the gewuertz batches - not all of them, perhaps 1/3 of the running batches.

Further investigation suggested the yeast were releasing small amounts of Hydrogen sulfide as a byproduct of their metabolism. In wine making, this is usually the result of pesticide residues on the grapes. All wine grapes are sprayed with pesticides; even the organic stuff probably gets hit with pesticides that have slipped through the loopholes in the relevant "organic" designations. The problem comes from the time interval between the last spray and harvest. If insufficient time passes for the pesticides to wash off the grapes or be metabolized, they get into the wine, and the yeast metabolize them. In other words, the grower lied to us when he assured us he hadn't sprayed the grapes within that critical interval.

We tried a few things, common in the wine industry, to get rid of the H2S, with pretty good success. When we filtered the wine, we separated the gewuertz so there could be no cross-contamination to other varieties (no other variety had this problem), but we got it down to the point that the taste was really faint. At least, to us.

I bottled my batch just before my last day at work, and took it home. Then of course I gave a few bottles away - presumably I gave you one or two, Carlo. If they didn't have a label, that's them. Sorry about that, I thought we'd solved the problem.

The other thing wrong with the Ontario gewuertz was a weird sorta flavour that cannot be removed from wine; I liken it to broccoli, but others have used the word "goat". I don't know where that came from, but I'm going to go ahead and blame the grower for that, too.

On the other hand, if the gewuertz you hated DID have a label, with a Druuge spaceship on it, and a bottling date in 2007, then you're on crack. That was my kit-made gewuertz, the second batch of wine I ever made, and it's nearly my favourite. That stuff was great, but now it's all gone. No problems at all in that one. You drank several bottles of that in my presence, without complaints.

King Aardvark said...

Whoops, I misread the end of your last post; thought it said “How much wine can one burnt-out, overeducated, underemployed man DRINK?”

This is much less interesting, though probably better for you health and bank account.

TheBrummell said...

I'm not sure a post simply about me attempting to consume a huge volume of wine would actually be that interesting. It would probably degenerate into incoherent grunting fairly quickly.

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Connor said...

I just stumbled upon this awesome post as I was looking for our Yellowpages profile. It is hilarious how little things have changed since when you worked here.
I took over for Allison a little over a year ago, Jerry is still the same though far less involved than before. If you're in town you should drop by sometime.

TheBrummell said...

Hi Connor, thanks for the comment!

I need to get back to Kamil juices and say hi sometime, it really was a good time for me.

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