Making Wine on His Own Vineyard
It sounds like the setup to a joke: What do nursing and winemaking have in common? But Richard Stading, an OR nurse at the El Dorado Surgery Center and co-owner of Auriga Wine Cellars—both in Placerville, Calif.—is serious when he points out the similarities: “Both boil down to having a knack for dealing with people and a passion for what you do.” Of course, there are also the long hours and often backbreaking work both careers require, but who’s counting when you love your jobs?
The road to his winemaking career started in the Mideast in 1982, when Stading was doing a three-year nursing stint in a country where the natives were alcohol-free, but the westerners drank alcohol. On his first day there, he learned that his Irish neighbors had their own brewery. Turned out, most of his expat friends were either making beer or wine, and it wasn’t long before Stading got into the DIY spirit, buying unfiltered, unpasteurized grape juice from his local market and developing his own culture strains from starter yeast.
Once back in the States, Stading enrolled in viticulture classes at the University of California, Davis, and at a community college to refine his winemaking skills, and began looking for land where he could grow his own grapes. It took two years before he found a property with both the right soil profile and optimal orientation to the sun.
Now 8,000 miles and 30 years from the start of his winemaking journey, Stading can proudly say that Auriga Wine Cellars, the company he and his wife started, produces 2,500 cases a year. “This is not a hobby you just jump into. You start by making wine for yourself, you enter some competitions—and when you win, you begin to think maybe you can go commercial. Once it gets under you skin, you’re in…for life.”
Same with nursing. Stading has no plans to quit, regardless of how much the winery grows. (Plus, his wife would either kill him or divorce him, he says—not just because they’d be stepping over one another, but because nursing helps to fund those French barrels that cost $1,000 apiece.)
Stading wouldn’t be able to balance his two jobs were it not for the understanding and support of his nurse manager and colleagues at the surgery center. By “only” working three eight-hour shifts a week, he can put in the 40 to 60 hours (or more, during harvest) needed in the winery.
The sense of community he enjoys with his nursing colleagues is another similarity between the two professions. The wine community is as tight as his OR team. “Even though you’re competing for a place on restaurants’ wine lists, you’re there to help one another and pull as a team. If your equipment breaks down, you know you can pick up the phone and ask for help.”
To all of you would-be winemakers, Stading has a cautionary note: Forget romantic notions of a glamorous life. “You’re not riding a horse through the vineyards and up to a big house on a hill. You’re riding a tractor. You smell like sulphur. Your fingers are permanently grape-stained purple…which, yes, can be a little disconcerting in the OR if your patient thinks you have dirty hands!” But, says Stading, “I don’t know anyone in the profession who doesn’t love it.” Ditto for nursing.