LaBelle Winery, perched on the hillside of a verdant landscape in Amherst, N.H., looks over rows of grape vines stretching toward the summer sun. The New England vineyard is a popular setting for weddings, bistro dinners, and as Steve Upton ’20 can attest, a summer job.
Awarded a funded internship grant from Bowdoin Career Planning, the Massachusetts native and wine enthusiast has been able to work at the winery as a summer intern. In a competitive process, the Bowdoin program awards selected students stipends to pursue what would otherwise be unpaid summertime internships or projects. As part of his internship, Upton helps maintain the burgeoning vineyard in preparation for the fall harvest.
“Right now we’re in the second phase of vine maintenance,” said Upton. “The first phase is early spring and now were tucking and tying, getting ready to tie them up the trellises.”
Come autumn, the trellises will be decorated with clusters of grapes, swelled to the peak of perfection. At this point in the winemaking process, when the grapes are ripe for picking, chemistry comes into play.
“In the fall, the grapes will be ripe, that’s when the Brix count reaches a certain sugar and acidity level,” Upton said, sharing his knowledge of viticulture. At the vineyard, he’s surrounded by wine connoisseurs who offer him expert knowledge firsthand. “There’s so much that goes in to it in terms of chemistry. It’s really incredible to talk to the winemakers here at LaBelle,” Upton said.
When fall does come, Upton will trade the New England wine scene for the viticulture epicenter of Bordeaux in the south of France. While studying abroad in the famous winemaking mecca, Upton plans on volunteering at a winery.
“I chose my study-abroad location to expand my knowledge of the French language and to gain a broader understanding of our world through a full linguistic and cultural immersion experience in Bordeaux,” explained Upton.
For Upton—a French and economics major with an earth and oceanographic studies minor—LaBelle, and the wine industry more broadly, represent a junction of sorts where he can explore his different interests through the lens of a single commodity.
If all goes as planned for Upton, he will one day open his own winery—following in the footsteps of other Bowdoin alumni, including Jim Anderson ’88. Just last month Anderson was awarded a perfect, 100-point score for his pinot noir by Wine Enthusiast magazine, becoming the second winery ever to do so.