Internships are a win-win for PA Wine Land

Erin Troxell spent a decade traveling the world, training to become a winemaker. Part of that process involved “internships” in Germany and France. While the word might conjure images of an unpaid young person fetching coffee, it is used in the wine industry to describe an intensive apprenticeship spent working and learning at a vineyard. In 2017, when Erin returned to Galen Glen Vineyard & Winery, her family’s business in Andreas, PA, she knew she wanted to bring that professional training model home with her.

She made the suggestion to her parents, Sarah and Galen Troxell, who have been growing grapes and making award-winning wines on their bucolic property since 1995. The trio started small, inviting a husband-and-wife team to live in the Troxell family house during harvest.

“That went really well, but we wanted to set up something even more formal,” recalls Erin. “I convinced my parents to renovate our original wine cellar on the property into a small apartment — I really wanted to be able to have the interns stay with us for the whole growing season.”

Just prior to the pandemic, Erin was building connections with European universities, hoping to attract interns. Those folks typically travel to the U.S. on a J-1 Visa, which covers work-and study-based exchange visitor programs. Unfortunately, that program was suspended due to coronavirus restrictions.

Enter Charlotte Adams. The Vermont native had been studying winemaking at the University of Bordeaux Institute of Vine and Wine Science (ISVV) in France but felt exhausted by repeated lockdowns and wanted to be closer to family. Because she was American, the visa wasn’t an issue. During the 2021 growing season, she not only interned, but also completed her thesis research at Galen Glen.

“I knew that I wanted to do something with East Coast wines,” she continues. “I’m from Vermont originally and agriculture played a really big role in my life growing up. I think a lot of people in Bordeaux were a little bit surprised that I wanted to do something on the East Coast, because for them, American wine is California, Oregon, or Washington.”

Her fiance’s family is in Bucks County, which helped narrow her search. Adams was also hoping to work with Grüner Veltliner, a varietal she fell in love with at a tiny wine shop in Bordeaux. It is Galen Glen’s signature grape

“I was looking at Pennsylvania. I found Galen Glen because I wanted to do something with white wines,” explains Adams. “Erin had actually spent a semester in Bordeaux at my school and she knew my professors. It all just clicked.”

The life of a winery intern is not one of quiet contemplation. It is hard, physical, hands-on work.

“We start early in the summer heat, sometimes 6:30 a.m.,” she says. “I’m outside for about eight hours a day. You’re touching every vine many, many times. Summer is very busy with vineyard work, and then there’s sort of like this lull before harvest — the calm before the storm — and we get some other projects done like cleaning the cellar. And then at harvest, you’re out there picking. It’s really a great way to learn more about vineyards.”

The situation is a win-win for the trainee and the winery, who not only get skilled labor but also a potential input of expertise and ideas from outside.

“The value is driven by staying in touch with new developments being researched at the university level,” says Erin. “It forces you to think about why you do things the way you do.”

“A trainee from another region could bring unique perspectives to our industry,” seconds Cain Hickey, Viticulture Extension Educator at Penn State. “Then they could take the learned experiences from PA and help spread the word about the great things going on in our grape and wine industry.”

Bringing interns — young, passionate up-and-comers in the wine world — to Pennsylvania helps build the reputation globally. They come to the state, have an inspiring experience, and then go back home, spreading the gospel of East Coast wines. Or, even better, they stay and add to the local talent pool. Forces in the industry see the value in these programs, both from a prestige perspective and a labor force development perspective.

“We are beginning discussions with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to establish an apprenticeship program that would benefit both the apprentice as well as the PA wine-grape industry,” says Molly Kelly, an Enology Extension Educator at Penn State. “This program would provide on-the-job training as well as an educational component. If we want to build infrastructure, training the next generation of industry members is critical to future success.”

“The industry could benefit by having more experienced vineyard managers and winemakers with a refined, focused skill set,” adds Hickey. “I think we need to continue to explore ways we can advertise and promote internship opportunities in the PA grape and wine industry, perhaps through Penn State, the Pennsylvania Winery Association, and/or enterprise-specific media outlets.”

At Galen Glen, the experiment was a big success.

“We would definitely like to have more interns in the future,” says Erin. “I’m hoping to use my relationship with the school in France and also the school where I spent a lot of time in Germany to bring international students as well.”