The below interview is a part of our Alumni Series, featuring winemakers who graduated from the Walla Walla Community College V&E Program. Enjoy the conversation below between current V&E Student Mack Combs and CJ August of August Forest Wines.
MC: How did you get into wine?
CJ: In 2019, the government shutdown while I was a consultant for government work in D.C. We didn’t work for a long while and with a lot of free time I was Able to think about my next moves in life. I really wanted to turn wine because when I was living in Washington D.C. I took an intro class on wine tasting at Capitol Wine School and really enjoyed it. I eventually earned my WSET 2 and 3 there. I used to be a government consultant and when I got burned out from that work, I thought up ways I could try to turn my wine hobby into a new career. I thought about the ways to get into the industry and was fascinated by wine production and found the WWCC EV program and applied.
MC: Is there someone in the EV world that you admire, including fellow EV alums?
CJ: My boss at Brook & Bull, Ashley Trout, for sure. Her drive and passion for the job and what she’s done with Vital her non-profit winery to focus on health care for Vineyard and Cellar workers. I also look up to some of the more recent EV grads that have started wineries like Kelsey Itameri from Ita and Robert at Hoquetus. Forest and I when starting August Forest got great advice from them both and awesome watching them grow their brands and we hope to follow in their footsteps.
MC: What’s special to you about working in the wine industry?
CJ: The wine industry is a great environment to work in. I’ve met and worked with some amazing people during harvest, especially the local winemakers, while putting August Forest Wines together. Everyone has been so very helpful in helping Forest and I navigate what it takes to put together a new wine business.
MC: What is your favorite part of your job?
CJ: I like how every day in winemaking is different, it’s like I get to do different things and not be stuck doing the same thing day after day which is what I was doing with consulting in D.C. and that’s one reason I got really bored with it and here it now on the tasting room manager for Brook & Bull. It doesn’t get boring.
MC: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in the industry?
CJ: I haven’t really had a lot of challenges so far, other than just getting a handle on being a business owner, like all of a sudden there is so much to do, I’d never done anything like this before. It’s one thing to make wine at WWCC and I kind of had those guard rails up while learning. Winemaking is like being on your own and I get it. I’ve had a lot of thoughtful advise from Ashley at Brooke & Bull and Chad at Dusted Valley, but in the end we, as new winemakers, are on our own, it’s what we studied and are learning to be, winemakers. It’s just a learning curve that’s kind of a big shot for me.
MC: What do you think differentiates and excites you about Washington wine?
CJ: It’s that there’s so much opportunity in Walla Walla, I mean we’ve been growing so quickly but there’s I think there’s so much more to do and to learn. I still find wine people in general aren’t even on the radar when it comes to Walla Walla wine even within the US. Forest and I really recognize, coming from the East Coast, that Washington wine is viewed as all Washington wine is just Riesling. There is a lot to grow here in our valley and it’s really exciting what we did with, August Forrest Wines, with our focus we are trying to place a lot of our wines made here in Walla Walla on the East Coast.
MC: How do you foresee climate change or social issues affecting the local industry in the next few years?
CJ: We see climate change in its physical and social effect and its social effects on the local wine industry. In the next few years, I think we will see definite impacts of AI on climate change actions to help protect vineyards. What worries me the most is the residual effect of more wildfires and smoke on west coast vineyards.
We have to adapt and kind of role with the higher temperatures here in Walla Walla and things like smoke and high temperatures we need to cut or mitigate some of the damage from smoke and extreme temperatures. Unfortunately, California wildfires seem are timed with our vineyard growth and harvest which is obviously bad for the wine industry, and all of a sudden we’re screwed on a significant portion of our harvest, so that it’s.
MC: What are some up-and-coming trends in wine that you’re following?
CJ: We are interest in sparkling wines, especially Pet Nat’s, which are a big deal now. We’re thinking sparkling Rose’s, but I don’t want to have to invest in sparkling wines right now but I would like to do at some point. I see sparking becoming more than just a celebratory reason to drink champagne anymore, I think people are starting to enjoy it more casually brunch or whatever it’s just a.
I’m curious to see what happens with Pet Nats and whether its a fad or something with longevity. I think they point to an ongoing trend that despite the market preferring traditional red wine there’s a segment of consumers interested in new, quirky wines. Orange wine faded kind of quickly but you still see some being made and I think we’re seeing people open themselves up to new or less familiar varietals.
Then there was orange wine was kind of popular for like a hot second. With that said, there was some other wines I think developed I thought were interesting. There has been more focus on more diverse wines, there’s more acceptable freedom to make different and quirky wines.
MC: What advice can you share with future EV graduates?
CJ: just think that I am really picked up on how special those two years at WWCC were. They go by so quickly and to just take advantage of the opportunities the program provides each student.
I had no intentions of starting August Forrest Wines when I first came to Walla Walla. My plan, when I first got here, was to just get through the College. I realized how doable everything was when I was working my internship. So, new graduates should listen to and take advantage of the help that is out there, from established winemakers. After two years of Viticulture & Enology at WWCC and I have the knowledge I can build on and establish a successful winery.