During harvest season, Matt Brain, Fresno State’s new winemaker and lecturer, wakes up at the break of dawn to monitor the winemaking process.
He checks the fermentation of the grapes by smell. Then he moves on to plan out his students’ daily duties, making sure they each learn tasks of vinification.
Brain also reaches out to growers who provide the fruit Fresno State buys. On days he needs to collect the fruit, Brain prepares a flatbed truck to transport the grapes. After driving to the Central Coast and receiving the pinot noir, a red wine grape variety, he returns to Fresno State to prepare for the next day’s processing.
“It’s teaching, winemaking, managing kids in the cellar, and outreach to the industry,” said Brain.
Brain’s fascination with the winemaking process started while he was working in fluid processing for an engineering company.
“I was always into beer and I got to work on brewery, distillery and winery projects,” said Brain. “This was my first job out of graduate school and I fell in love with the process of winemaking from the cellar perspective.”
Brain decided wine was the profession for him and ditched his career in Toronto to move to California’s Central Coast.
“I went from a high profile job to dragging hoses in the cellar for $10 an hour,” he said.
With his passion for wine growing, Brain began to engage the winemakers questioning them on the process.
“I caught their attention as being into it and working hard so a couple of them took me under their wing and helped me start climbing up the ladder,” said Brain. “My first year of winemaking, I remember working with some pinot noir from the Central Coast, and some of the fermentation aromas were just blowing my mind.”
Brain considers winemaking a process where science meets art.
“Being able to be an artist in this scientific context is pretty amazing,” said Brain. “The science only gets you so far in winemaking and there really needs to be a sensory interaction with artistic side of production and the combination of those two things is what I really love.”
Brain incorporates artistic winemaking methods into his own wine label, Baker and Brain, a project he started with his friend and business partner Josh Baker. The ultra-boutique wine project, which focuses on pinot noir, syrah, and grenache, is produced in a small rented space of a larger winery.
Brain is also continuing his education by pursuing a doctorate at the University of Adelaide in Australia and is completing his research at Fresno State.
Now Brain plans to bring his knowledge of small boutique techniques to Fresno State and teach students a more artisan approach to winemaking which is not often seen in large productions.
“One of the things that I really like to do is be creative and figure out what techniques to do the finished wine so I am exposing the students to some new techniques that they may have not yet seen,” added Brain.
Brain has made plans to bring fruit from areas that the students have traditionally not worked with on campus.
“The reason for that is that we produce winemakers here that go and make wine all over California and for them to only have experience with Valley fruit is robbing them from the full California experience,” Brain said. “I want to make winemakers that are ready to go to any part of California and be ready to work.”
New safety procedures are also on Brain’s radar, such as wearing high visibility vests during high production times and other health-focused safety strategies.
Brain’s goal as the new winemaker is to make a lasting impact on the viticulture program and continue to make the program one of the best in the state.
“I feel like the combination of intelligence and work ethic that I get from the students here already puts them on track to be the best winemakers in California, so it’s not that difficult to help them become that and I want this department to be known as making the best winemakers in California,” Brain said.