Liisa MacLean will be filtering wine in a cellar halfway across the world instead of walking across the convocation stage at Brock University on Friday.
The 26-year-old from Thunder Bay is working as a cellar hand at Divino Nordheim Thüngersheim eG, a winery in the Franconia region of Germany.
It’s her first job in the industry since completing Brock’s Oenology and Viticulture certificate program in August. MacLean is working alongside another Brock graduate, Jessy Plante (BSc ’16), who has been at the winery for three years.
She describes it as a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience, explaining how the winery has a container village on the property where international workers live in shipping containers complete with bedrooms, a bathroom and kitchen.
“The idea of living in shipping containers and working in Germany sounded so crazy, I had to do it,” said MacLean.
As a cellar hand, she’s been getting plenty of hands-on experience, cleaning tanks, barrels and equipment, as well as racking and filtering wine.
“I asked to assist the lab technician for a few days and monitored and analyzed the wine ferments,” she said. “One day before harvest began, I also got to go out to the vineyards with one of the viticulture workers to take grape maturity samples.”
She credits the Oenology and Viticulture certificate program and her volunteer experience with Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) with allowing her to learn quickly on the job.
“My winemaker said he was very impressed with my practical knowledge,” said MacLean. “When I tell people I studied wine at Brock University, they’re impressed with how developed the wine industry in Canada is, complete with having a university to support it. I feel proud to represent Brock, and now I get to demonstrate the knowledge I gained while I was there to winemakers internationally.”
Before Brock, MacLean completed an Honours Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the University of Ottawa and a Master’s of Science in Chemistry at the University of Calgary.
“I was drawn to the wine industry because it combines science, art, nature and so much passion,” said MacLean. “Studying science always came naturally to me but I have this artistic side as well. I didn’t know how to combine them until I saw an infographic on Pinterest, of all things, titled The Chemistry in Wine, and it just clicked.”
She said she then did extensive research about how wine is made and how she could study it, which lead her to Brock — specifically, CCOVI’s Senior lab Instructor Steven Trussler — and was convinced it was the career path for her.
“Liisa is a great example of the diversity of students that are attracted to the Oenology and Viticulture programming at Brock,” said Trussler. “We were able to leverage her strong chemistry background, supplement that with some biology and sensory theory, and provide rich experiential learning in grape and wine labs, projects, field trips and extra-curricular activities.”
MacLean said she’s currently applying for harvest 2020 jobs in Australia and New Zealand for both cellar hand and winery lab technician positions, and that she’d like to travel more before returning to the Niagara region.
Although she won’t make it to convocation this week, she said she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
“The whole experience has been surreal,” she said. “After dinner I can walk in the vineyards to watch the sunset over the hill. I still cannot believe that I am freshly graduated, making wine and living in Germany.”