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Forgeron Winemaker Cody Janett

Cody's family farmed hay and alfalfa in Royal City, Washington, and he learned to drive a tractor at a young age. After graduating from Royal City High School in the spring of 2011 at age 17, he took a trip organized by EF Educational Tours. He saw Rome and beautiful countryside in Italy, seeing vineyards and olive groves. Next up was Greece. At a traditional dance performance, they were offered wine. "It was my first experience with wine. We had a red that was the brightest, freshest red I've ever had. I said to myself, 'This is what I'll be able to do.' I knew I was really interested in wine."

On his return, he wanted to find out more about the viticulture side of the winemaking program at Walla Walla Community College (WWCC). The school was so enamored with his entrance paper that they set up an interview right away. After a tour of the facility and campus, they asked if he thought it was the right fit. "Everything felt right about it, I knew I was on the right path." While there, he found out about the chemical winemaking aspect and fell in love. "I always had an interest in chemistry and when I learned how clean everything had to be with sanitary conditions in the lab, I was in! Eight-five percent of winemaking is clean work, as opposed to how dirty farming is. I didn't want to be dirty anymore."

Before starting school, he saw that Forgeron Cellars was looking for interns for the harvest of 2011. "I was in the right place at the right time," recalls Cody. "I lived two blocks away from the winery. I talked to the assistant winemaker at the time and asked about work. They were all working double shifts and needed help. He gave me a tour and when I walked into the tank room, I had that same feeling of knowing this was right. He asked when I could start, and I said, 'this afternoon'. He said the next morning would be fine. I've been there ever since."

Being an intern is not a romantic part of winemaking. Moving hoses, shoveling, heavy lifting. "I say that 100% it was wonderful to start at the bottom," says Cody. "I really appreciate my harvest interns now. It's hard to clean and do all the jobs that have to be done, but it's so necessary and helpful to the process."

Cody worked as an intern for four years as he attended college from 2011-2015. "I took breaks from school to work harvest. When I got my AA/AS from WWCC, I was promoted to assistant winemaker, which I did for three years. When winemaker Marie-Eve Gilla retired, in 2018, I was promoted to winemaker. When I look back at Forgeron dates, it's funny. The winery became fully licensed on June 1, 2001. I was promoted to assistant winemaker on June 1, 2015. And I was promoted to winemaker on June 1, 2018!"

Having grown up on a farm, Cody feels it made the transition into winemaking easier. "I drove a tractor 22 hours a day. When I got into wine making and only had to work 12 hours a day, I thought 'I finally get to relax!' And once you go through several harvests, you know what to expect and can almost let your mind go on auto pilot. It's so enjoyable. Much better than driving a tractor!" Of course, there are the days he travels to visit vineyards and is away for 10 hours, then returns to the winery to take care of everything there.

Cody was a catalyst for changing the way wine programs at school operate. When he went to school, he was 18 and wasn't allowed to taste the wine. "I could smell, but not taste. I would sit in class behind empty glasses and knew it was because they were trying to protect the school, but it made it much more difficult. About six or seven months into the program, my instructor of enology Tim Donahue knew I wasn't messing around, I was committed to the program. He went to the Dean and talked about allowing students 18-21 years of age to taste wine during classes. The Dean was all for it, but in order for it to work there had to be three hard and fast rules: 1) someone had to drive me to and from class the days we tasted, 2) I had to sip and spit and if I was caught swallowing, it was automatic expulsion, and 3) I could be asked to take a breathalyzer test at any time. So that's what we did, and it worked. Other schools around the state noticed and eventually there was legislation written to allow sip-and-spit at wine programs." Cody met with some people on the Board of Trustees to talk about how the program was working. The next week there was a meeting at WWCC, and other board members came in and wanted to see "the poster child" of the program.

"Tasting is a part of building your palate," says Cody. "In one class, Sensory Analysis, you had to taste 40 wines in an hour-and-a-half. Your palate is just burned out. Instructors would say, 'Just try to pick one detail out from the wine.' It took five weeks of the eight-week course, but eventually I could pick out at least one detail from 40 flights."

Since becoming winemaker, Cody has made minor improvements like shortening fermentation time, keeping the cellar colder, and picking fruit a hair earlier. "The wines are showing better than I expected. It doesn't take a big change and you don't have to reinvent the wheel."

For the future, Cody will keep finding the best areas in the state to grow the varietals he wants to use to create cleaner, brighter, fresher wines that showcase what Washington can do.

Connie Adams/July 2019


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