The 18-year-old 2014 graduate of Tracy High School was checking the sugar content of cabernet sauvignon grapes in the Mount Oso Vineyard. It was all part of her summer internship in viticulture, a major California industry she hopes to become part of.
Standing next to her in the 700-acre vineyard was Jessica Brown, 16, a junior at Tracy High this year.
Jessica is the daughter of Jeff Brown, managing partner of the family-owned vineyard at the intersection of Bird Road and Highway 132.
The two young women, both members of the Tracy High FFA chapter, have worked together in the vineyard for six weeks, learning what growing wine grapes is all about.
“Rebecca received a scholarship from the Tracy Rotary Club in May, and at that time she said she hoped to study viticulture in college and pursue a career in the field,” Jeff Brown said. “I was at the Rotary meeting and heard her, so I offered her an internship to give her on-the-ground experience. And that’s what we have given her.”
When Rebecca started her internship in June, Jessica saw an opportunity to learn more about the family business alongside a fellow FFA member. Rebecca was FFA president in the past year before graduating.
“Before, I was casually interested in growing grapes, but this summer with Rebecca here, I’ve really got into it,” Jessica said.
If the two students wanted on-the-ground experience, that’s what they have experienced, literally.
“We start about 6 o’clock in the morning and keep working in the vines until about 2 o’clock in the afternoon,” Rebecca reported. “There is a lot of work that we’ve done.”
Tying vines to trestles has been one of the most demanding parts of the internship, she said. Checking the vines and grape bunches has been less intensive, but also instructive about grapes.
“We’ve been out there making sure there are no problems with the grapes and vines,” she said. “Both Jessica and I have learned a lot about what to look for.”
The two students have also job-shadowed a wine-grape broker and a winery field representative, both of whom have visited the vineyard. The fact that both visitors are women helped the students realize that women have an increasingly active role in the massive California viticulture industry, Jeff Brown pointed out.
Rebecca finished up her internship in the past few days, but before that, she and Jessica visited the McManus Winery in Ripon to learn something about winemaking.
“I’ve really learned a lot of about the basics of growing grapes and making wine,” Rebecca said. “There’s a lot to it, but what I’ve seen, I’ve liked.”
Upon completing her internship, Rebecca will begin classes at Modesto Junior College with an emphasis on general agriculture. She plans to study viticulture at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.
She added: “What I’ve learned here this summer will give me a good start.”
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at email@example.com.