Running for the Vine

Santa Barbara’s jogging winemakers prepare for 5th Vintners 5 Miler on Saturday, July 20 at Sanford Winery

By Matt Kettmann, Santa Barbara Independent

Contrary to stereotypical notions of rotund, leisurely bon vivants, Santa Barbara County’s winemakers are a rather athletic bunch. Many stay fit by jogging, often through the vineyards, which makes the upcoming Vintners 5 Miler and its Finish Line Festival, a perfect pairing of exercise and oenology. To see how running and winemaking mesh, I asked five running winemakers to explain how their two passions work together. 

DAVID WHITEHAIR:  “I used to say that I was a winemaker with a trail running addiction,” explained the winemaker at Foxen Vineyard & Winery. “Now I say that I’m a trail runner with a winemaking addiction.” 

That’s no joke: After 13 years of running, Whitehair got serious four years ago, now clocking about four miles every day on his lunch break and then 15-30 miles each weekend, sometimes barefoot, usually on such trails as Point Sal, Romero Canyon and McKinley Peak. Two years ago he did his first ultra-marathon, with 5,100 feet of elevation changes; ran a 55K in Antelope Valley last March; and then did a 30-miler after that. In January, he’ll tackle Avalon’s 50-miler and aims to tally a 100-miler soon. 

He kills two birds with one stone by running vineyards. “You get to check on the progress of the vines and get your workout all in one,” said Whitehair, who finds plenty of benefits for his job. “Running allows me to tackle current challenges that I am facing in the winery, through meditation,” he said. “It is a state of meditation and clarity that I find myself in, often forgetting that I am running, legs set to autopilot. Running and winemaking are both strong mental games, requiring immense amounts of discipline, dedication and passion. I feel that being an ultra-runner has made me a better winemaker, and being a winemaker has made me a better runner.”

He also sees parallels in the “old world” approach to running and winemaking. “There are always going to people trying to sell you their product that’s supposed to revolutionize your wine, or a new running shoe that’s going to change the game forever,” said Whitehair. “When in fact, people have been doing both, for thousands of years, and sticking to those tried-and-true methods seem to work best. Good fruit, good barrels, good shoes and a good hat. What else would you need?”

McKENNA GIARDINE:  The assistant winemaker for Andrew Murray and winemaker for E11even wines started seriously running last November, training for a 10K. “I really enjoyed the structure of training for a race,” she explained. “The endorphins don’t suck either.”

She now runs about four times per week (from two to eight miles), often near the waterfront in Ventura, with two days of cross-training. She’s not a vineyard runner, fearing a broken ankle prior to harvest, but does see the practice as part stress management, part staying in shape for harvest. 

In wine, no two vintages are the same, and she sees a parallel in jogging. “No two runs are the same,” explained Giardine. “One day you can smash out a big run and feel amazing and the next day do the same run and struggle. Taking it day-by-day, vintage-by-vintage, is important.”

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