The Wine’s Fantastic: an interview with Ken Jones of Abeja by Stacie Pike.
Ken Jones grew up and still lives in Walla Walla. He has worked at several wineries throughout the valley, but has been at Abeja since 2016. He started there as Enologist, but has recently become Assistant Winemaker. Ken and I talk about what it’s like to get into wine so young, how climate change is a major concern, and how important diversity and equity are to the ever growing industry.
Stacie Pike: How did you get into wine?
Ken Jones: I started out helping do odd jobs around wineries while in high school (Walla Walla High). Once out of high school, I worked my first full harvest and appreciated how dynamic of a process winemaking is, the seasonality of the process, even though I wasn’t old enough to drink wine at the time. From there, I decided to join the program and tasted a lot more wine, and was hooked.
SP: Is there someone in the EV world that you admire, including fellow EV alums?
KJ: Griffin Frey was great. I started working at Tranche and Corliss a bit after high school and he showed me the ropes as a rowdy 20-something. He was extremely patient, showing me how to do all of the various cellar operations and always kept a healthy pressure on to complete tasks efficiently and consistently. Andrew Trio (Corliss) also spent a lot of time explaining why we were doing cellar operations a certain way and how that related to the wine quality, it was a fantastic learning experience. We also tasted a ton of really good wines, which was great for helping develop my palate.
SP: What’s special to you about working in the wine industry?
KJ: It’s a never-ending learning opportunity. Every year you’re working with different challenges and different qualities that make the wines special. There is also so much tradition, science, and world history to learn about.
SP: What is your favorite part of your job?
KJ: I’ve really enjoyed all aspects of the job! Mostly, I have really enjoyed nerding out over fermentation kinetics and working with Dan and Amy on a bunch of trials in the winery. We also have a great team, and grow/work with fantastic fruit.
SP: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in the industry?
KJ: Getting used to the harvest grind is hard at first, but pretty soon you start looking forward to it every year. I am a bit of a self conscious person. Initially enrolling in the program there were so many passionate and talented folks from all walks of earth. I was a bit insecure about where I would fit into the wine industry starting out.
SP: What do you think differentiates and excites you about Washington wine?
KJ: The huge variability in climates, soil, varieties, and winemaking styles! It is a relatively young area for commercial winemaking and it is fun to see the range of different wines made across the state and how some regions have been forging their identity over the last 20+ years.
SP: How do you foresee climate change or social issues affecting the local industry in the next few years?
KJ: Climate change is something that needs to be addressed currently and for the foreseeable future. I imagine that we will see a larger push from governing agencies and the consumer for more efficient use of water/energy in the cellar and more sustainable packaging. Luckily many regions harder hit by lack of water or energy costs have paved the way in regards to operating procedures and equipment. As far as DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) is concerned, 2020 has really fired up so much fantastic social change across the country. There is obviously a range of issues regarding equitable practices in the wine industry. I am really excited to see these movements continue in the wine industry. I would imagine more companies will begin implementing more conscious and thoughtful hiring practices and hiring at more equitable wages. There are also good resources becoming available whether it is HR specific lectures at trade shows or hiring a consulting company like Maryam and Co which is owned by Maryam Ahmed a WWCC alumn!
SP: What are some up-and-coming trends in wine that you’re following?
KJ: I honestly haven’t been following many of the up and coming trends. Most of my focus has been on staying up to date with current research and learning about existing wine trends.
SP: What advice can you share with future EV graduates?
KJ: Try to find employers that are supportive and want to teach you about their practices. There are so many different companies with a range of different winemaking philosophies locally. Apply at companies that make you excited or provide a unique experience.Keep learning and stay excited! I have really enjoyed continuing my education with WSU and WSET.