Every Friday, we’re shining a light on a different farmer in Washington State. We hope you enjoy getting to know those who grow our grapes. They work around the clock to make our hours happy. This week, get to know Tommy Bigelow, Viticulture Technician over at Seven Hills Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley.
Washington Wine: How did you get into wine, and/or why Washington wine?
Tommy Bigelow: My entry into the Washington wine industry was the moment I took off my shoes and helped foot stomp my dad’s first vintage in 1998. As a six year old, this is one of my first, although faint, memories. I remember family and friends arriving at our house to celebrate a new beginning for my parents, and to participate in the first crush, in our home driveway, for what eventually would become JM Cellars.
WAwine: What does work look like for you? What vineyard, winery, or type of work do you do most?
TB: Right now I am working full-time as Sadie Drury’s Viticulture Technician. This is my 3rd growing season working at North Slope Management and I will always be grateful for the opportunity. My work ranges quite a bit; planting, pruning, helping with irrigation/fertigation, scouting through the vineyards, among many other jobs. I would say the most constant responsibility is being an extended set of eyes for Sadie to know what is going on in each block of the 6 properties that we manage.
WW: What do you like most about wine work, and what’s most difficult about working in wine?
TB: My favorite thing about wine-growing is that it requires you to immerse yourself in the process. This industry is also about dreaming big and chasing those dreams, however to be content with the work you must be present for the chase itself. This required lesson of true patience (not learning to wait, but learning there is nothing to wait for) is both the most difficult and rewarding part of this industry for me.
WW: What does life, or an ordinary day, look like off-season?
TB: Harvest in the cellar is my favorite time of the year. When I’m not working with the grapes in the cellar, I want to be with the grapes in the vineyards. My vineyard work used to be a way for me to reach my best potential as a winemaker, and now I am realizing just how much I love being in the vines during the growing season.
WW: What’s one thing you love to do that has nothing to do with wine?
TB: I love Yoga. I teach in Walla Walla (shout-out to ZenSoul Yoga). The connection that my students and I share in the community is one pillar of joy that keeps me uplifted everyday. We are starting a Yoga warmup for the crew once a week as well, which is a dream I have had for a few years.
WW: What’s wine or grape excites you most? Or, what is one of your favorite or first Washington wines you had?
TB: Merlot has always been my favorite Washington variety. JM Cellars’ first wine was Tre Fanciulli (three treasured lads), named for my two brothers and me; Jack is Cabernet Sauvignon, I am Merlot, and Joe is Syrah. The first wine that I truly fell in love with was the 2012 Louisa from our estate vineyard in Sevein: 100% Margaret’s Vineyard Merlot, it was named after my grandmother who passed away in 2012. It embodies her warmth and comfort and is still my favorite wine to this day.
FF: What inspires you these days? Where do you find inspiration?
TB: I am inspired by the people that I surround myself with. I am lucky to have so many mentors in this industry. Sadie, Jared Funk, and Francisco Hernandez inspire me in the vineyards every day. As far as winemaking goes, I could name 15 people that have shaped my journey. I will just list the 3 that are with me at every Thanksgiving. John Bigelow (my dad), Mike Januik (my uncle), and Andrew Januik (my cousin).
FF: How would you describe Washington wine in one (or two) word(s)?
TB: Community support.
WW: Are there any changes that you see happening in Washington that excites you? Is there anything you wish would change in Washington? Here, we’d love to know what you see, what conversations you’re having with others about the wine industry, how it’s changing/growing, etc.
TB: For the most part, I really like the way things are going for this industry. I feel like so much has evolved in just the last 3 years while I was working in Napa. I would say the vast net of possibilities in this state is what excites me the most. Besides the very obvious issue of a changing climate, I would like us to focus on creating, not only sustainable, but thriving conditions for our farmworkers. I really admire what Ashley Trout has done with Vital Wines and I think we can continue to push in that direction.
This column is open to all grape farmers in Washington State. Are you a farmer, or do you work with one who you think would like to be featured in our Friday Farmer column? Reach out to Bretty Rawson, Digital Programs Manager at Washington Wine, at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to shine a light on you, and all the work you do, to make Washington Wine what it is today.