Story of a…Winemaker
Jeanne Burgess has been drinking on the job for 34 years as vintner at Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards in Clermont.
Cheers to Dad’s hobby. “My dad was an amateur winemaker producing the household legal limit [200 gallons per year]. Foam and wine residue can bubble over during the fermentation process so, during my childhood, our bathtub was full of jugs to catch the mess.”
A sip here, a sip there. “I typically drink wine before and during dinner. However, as a winemaker, I taste wine throughout the day to evaluate wine quality parameters like aroma, flavor, balance and finish, from harvest to bottling.”
It takes teamwork. Burgess oversees a five-person team. “During August and September, we work 24/7 to harvest and process between 80 and 120 tons of grapes per day.” This includes de-stemming, juicing, fermenting, filtering and then, “come April, we’re bottling… barely emptying the tanks enough before the next harvest.”
Finding buried treasure. A harvester once lost his wedding band in a grape-filled truck. “Days later, after processing literally tons and tons of grapes, something shiny caught my eye in the pump—the ring! Lesson learned: Don’t wear jewelry when harvesting.”
Getting high on fumes. “One day, the carbon dioxide generated by the fermentation made me lightheaded, and my glasses fell into the tank I was stirring.” She fished them out, but not before they had taken on the color of the wine.
Savoring her private stock. Burgess manages production of 175,000 cases per year and has a personal wine cellar stocked with about 20 cases. “My husband doesn’t drink wine—never acquired a taste for it—so it’s just mine.” Her collection includes her favorite, Lakeridge’s Marquis Reserve, a dry sparkling wine discontinued 15 years ago, and nostalgic bottles made by her father during the 1980s.
Muscadine is fine. “Muscadine wines, like the ones I make, weren’t considered to be traditional wines and were perceived as lesser quality when I started out. People today are more willing to try different kinds of beverages and support local businesses.”
Sticking with a winner. “In the early days, we made orange, pineapple, tangerine and grapefruit wines and sold them at tourist shops. Eventually, we focused just on our main sellers of non-flavored muscadine wines.”
Pop goes the cork. “Lakeridge built simulated caves, which stored our sparkling wines. One day, I heard loud popping over and over and when I opened the door, I saw glass and foam flying everywhere! We literally had a sparkling wine explosion. It took two weeks to clean up.”
Wine wisdom. “My mentor explained to me that winemaking is an art with infinite, ever-changing variables. Every time I think I have it figured out, it changes. And that’s why I love it. Winemaking stays fresh and enjoyable.”