Student Spotlight: Richard McClellan

Rich McClellan

From Amateur to Professional Winemaker

“It’s a landscaping project that got completely out of control,” says Richard McClellan, owner of Highland Hills Vineyard and Winery in Ramona, Calif., when asked about how he got into the wine industry. His “project” is a family affair that has grown into a successful boutique winery that produces 500-750 cases of estate wine each year.

San Diego County, where Ramona is located, was the birthplace of California wine, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries and it flourished until flooding and the Prohibition devastated the industry. But since the early 1990s, the region’s wine scene has resurged, and McClellan is a part of that renaissance.

On taking the leap from amateur to professional winemaker:

“I had been making wine as an amateur for 20-30 years, but the literature aimed at the amateur world didn’t leave me feeling very confident. My previous education and background was electrical engineering, so I like to know what’s going on and that’s what led me to the Winemaking Certificate Program. I decided that there was a lot I needed to learn and understand.”

On understanding the fundamentals of winemaking:

“The amateur literature is more like a cook book, and at some point I heard that the Winemaking Certificate Program doesn’t teach you how to make wine, it teaches you about making wine. Other programs tell you how to do it, and that works when it works, but it doesn’t always work. So the certificate program helped me understand why it might not be working. I’m not as recipe oriented as I used to be. I assess the situation and decide what needs to be done. I understand why I’m doing things. It seems trivial, but understanding what you’re doing and why makes a huge difference.”

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