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Colter Knight travels the world to pursue his wine making career

Colter Knight travels the world to pursue his wine making career


Growing up in Tepusquet Canyon, Colter Knight was surrounded by vineyards and wineries.

Thus, "I became interested in wine making simply by exposure," he said.

Colter Knight, the son of veteran Righetti High School water polo coach Rob Knight, was a driver and captain for a Righetti team that made a CIF Southern Sectional divisional final in 2013 and 2014, Colter Knight's senior year.

He continued his water polo career at UC Davis. Since then, he has followed his wine making career around the world.

After his time at UC Davis was done, Knight seized the chance to work the upcoming wine harvest in the southern hemisphere. He did so in Australia.

After that, "My plan was to work a harvest in California but I was presented with an opportunity to work in Burgundy, France, a rare chance for an American," he said.

"Burgundy is famous for Pinot noir and Chardonnay and because most of the production is focused on those two varietals, the harvest season can actually be quite quick."

Colter Knight was able to work in Burgundy thanks partly to one of his father's water polo connections, UC Davis alum and former water polo player Steve Fredricks, who is the president of the wine brokerage Turrentine in Burgundy.

Colter Knight worked his job in Burgundy for two months. Afterward came a month of travel, then he secured a job in South Africa.

"I came home for Christmas and the New Year but was back on the plane shortly after," said Knight.

He lives now on the Marianne Wine Estate wine farm he works at, about 20 minutes from Stellenbosch and an hour from Cape Town.

"My position is seasonal and coming to an end," said Colter Knight.

"Since I arrived in late January I have worked with Viognier, Sauvignon blanc for whites, predominantly Cinsault for our Rose, and Syrah, Mourvedre, Genache, Merlot, Cabernet savignon and Pinotage for our reds."

Knight said, "We have a strong Bordeaux influence in our wines. The owner of our farm is a giant in the French wine industry and has expert French consultants guiding our winemaking process. In fact, our winery touts the motto 'South African terroir. French savoir faire.'"

Knight said South Africa's response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been strong and that the country is faring well compared to the United States and Europe. Still, he said, the pandemic has hit the South Africa wine industry hard. 

"Alcohol sales are currently banned in South Africa," he said. "This has been catastrophic for the wine industry on the Western Cape, not to mention a cause of paranoia of theft for us living on a wine farm."

Knight said that before the lockdown began, the Marianne Wine Estate wine farm cellar team of six was already working 12-hour days to keep up with the wines. Since, he said, the cellar team is down to two.

"Only those of us living on the farm were able to continue working," said Knight. "We still had several tons of Cabernet sauvignon still hanging on the vines when the lockdown was announced."

The grapes are typically harvested by a team of about 30 experienced vineyard workers. Knight said, "We were forced to pick everything with the 10 people staying on the farm, a team that included much welcomed hands of wives and children."

Knight said he and the winemaker had to keep up with the cellar work while also picking in the vineyard.

"The fact that we finished this harvest is remarkable. The grapes our small team picked are now dry wine and will be going into barrels soon."

Knight said, "South Africa, like everywhere else ...must manage the delicate balance between safety and freedom. We welcome the days ahead when the lockdown will not be so tight."

Having weathered the harvesting challenge, Knight may soon face another daunting task — travel.

"Finding return flights to the US has not been an easy task," he said.

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Sports Reporter

Kenny Cress, sportswriter for the Santa Maria Times since September of 2000. BA in political science from Cal Poly Pomona. BA in journalism from Cal State Northridge.

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