OSCAR GALVAN DID not come from privilege. He grew up in an immigrant family with parents born in Mexico who came here to find the American dream for themselves and their children.
For Galvan, 26, that is becoming a reality, thanks to the wine industry.
He grew up in Kirkland and often helped his parents at their longtime Mexican restaurant in Everett. It’s called Café Tequila but ironically doesn’t serve hard alcohol. Galvan’s father is from Jalisco, the traditional home of tequila.
In 2009, Galvan began working as a server at Bin on the Lake, a wine bar in Kirkland. He was 19 and quickly became intrigued by wine. After signing a waiver, he was allowed to try wine as a training tool for helping customers make buying decisions.
“I was exposed to tasting wine at an early age. For me, that was kind of cool.”
Quickly, he became intrigued and decided to make wine his profession. He first considered becoming a sommelier — a French word that now refers to a restaurant wine steward — but soon realized making the wine would be more enriching.
Galvan volunteered to work various events, including Taste Washington. This afforded him the opportunity to talk to winemakers and understand what it would take for him to join their ranks.
“The more I researched, the more I liked it,” he says. “The interest just kept growing and led me to where I am now.”
Two years ago, Galvan entered South Seattle College to learn winemaking. About the same time, he began working as a server at famed Café Juanita, where he has fallen in love with Italian wines. And that intrigue in international wine is sending him hurtling toward his next adventure, which is not too dissimilar to Andrew Januik’s.
Galvan’s working harvest at Darby Winery in Woodinville before flying to Europe, where he is making plans to work in the Piedmont region of Italy and possibly France’s Loire Valley. His idea is to gain an international perspective — and do it while he’s still young.
If everything works out, he’d like to work in New Zealand next spring during the harvest season there.
“I’m just trying to get as much harvest experience as I can get in the next couple of years before I decide to come back to Washington and work here,” he says. “Getting international experience and working with winemakers at a young age will make me better for the future, especially when it comes to finding the style of wine that I want to make.”
When he does return to Washington wine country, he will be one of the few Hispanic winemakers. As with many segments of the agriculture industry in Eastern Washington, grape growers rely heavily on Hispanic workers to do the hard work in their vineyards.
Galvan believes this could give him an advantage.
“Eastern Washington has a big Hispanic community,” he says. “I’m fluent in Spanish, and my parents are from Mexico. I think it will make communicating easier for me.”
IT IS A SIGN of maturity that Washington’s wine industry — the second-largest in the country — has so many young people bringing their youthful zeal and energy.
In the past 40 years, Washington wineries have been run by people who came from somewhere else or were working at Boeing or Microsoft. Vineyards often were planted by farmers looking to diversify their crops. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s how we figured out this was viable.
Steve Warner, president of Washington State Wine Commission in Seattle, likes how the industry is evolving.
In many cases, children of winemakers are getting into the business, studying and learning from those who already have walked down the path while bringing new twists and ideas.
And now a generation of young people with no connection to the industry but a love for wine also is stepping in. Thanks to the in-state educational opportunities, 50 to 80 new graduates are entering the wine industry each year. They will become winemakers, grape growers, salespeople, retailers and marketers. They will find their niche — probably inventing jobs we haven’t thought of yet.
“It’s so exciting,” Warner says. “The current generation got us to this spot where we’re not just a cute little cottage industry. We’re on the world stage, thanks in part to an influx of youthful exuberance. They’re coming in with a solid foundation.”
In many ways, Washington wine country is still the Wild West. In Europe and even in California, it’s difficult to bring new ideas and make a difference.
Here in Washington, you can still leave your fingerprints on the industry. And that is what these three have every intention of doing.
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