When Benjamin Eyer was growing up in Pennsylvania, his grandfather made wine in the basement from a few grapevines in the backyard, he says. “There was always wine floating around,” he recalls. “But I wouldn’t say it was a focal point of the family.” Despite that early exposure, Eyer started as an undergraduate at Allegheny College with a general interest in science but no particular goal of making wine.
At Allegheny, Eyer’s Spanish and chemistry advisers saw his potential in both subjects and nudged him toward a dual major. After various summer internships, Eyer decided to pursue organic chemistry research in graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh with chemistry professor Peter Wipf. “About halfway through the time I spent at Pitt, I started thinking about postgraduation,” Eyer says. He knew he wanted to work somewhere with a more immediate result than the long-term research focus of academia or biotech. So he started looking around.
Eyer ran across the Winemaking Certificate program at the University of California, Davis. “I said, ‘I’ll take this class. This sounds interesting,’ ” he recalls. The virtual program introduced Eyer to different aspects of the wine industry, as well as people in the field. And he was hooked. Eyer started out as a harvest intern at wineries in Chile and the US, helping out as the grapes were harvested, crushed, and fermented. The job was a combination of cellar hand and lab tech, analyzing the grape juice and monitoring its fermentation.
Getting a full-time job in wine making wasn’t easy. Especially because of his master’s degree, not everyone believed Eyer was willing to do the more physical aspects of the job. But eventually, Eyer convinced A to Z Wineworks in Oregon that he knew what he was getting into. Soon, Eyer was liaising between the cellar, the lab, and the bottling line. Eyer improved the winery’s bottling quality-control standards. He then moved to a position at another winery in Oregon, Montiore, initially helping with protocols and data management. Eventually, he was managing all aspects of wine making. After Eyer had overseen production of five vintages, “I felt like it was time for a change,” he says.
And that change brought him back to chemistry. Eyer now works as a product specialist at Admeo, a company that provides analytical equipment to winemakers. It was time to “go back and delve deeper into some of the analytical things,” he says. His job is to help customers who call with questions about the different kits and equipment the company sells. Eyer hopes to one day set up his own wine-making business, but for now, he’s happy helping others create the perfect blend.