Alumni Profile: Celia Welch

Celia Welch

Year and degree of graduation:
I graduated in 1982 with a BS in Fermentation Science. In those days, winemaking and viticulture were considered separate disciplines. Many of the winemakers took the general viticulture class (as I did) but the two areas of study were considered separate disciplines. 

Current job title/company
My current title is Owner/Winemaker at Celia Welch Consulting. 

What have you been up to since you graduated?
Since graduating in 1982…wow, how many pages can I fill with the details?  I worked my first year after graduation for a start-up company in NE Georgia that was importing wines from Europe and looking to potentially start growing and producing wines on the Eastern Seaboard.  I was working under a longtime California winemaker by the name of Ed Friedrich, a veteran of the industry and someone who was open to encouraging me and mentoring me.  The venture's owner was Donald Panoz, who at the time was mainly occupied with pharmaceutical research, specifically developing the first transdermal patch for medication delivery.  I was invited to join the pharmaceutical research team at the time and still wonder what my life might have become if I had chosen that path instead of winemaking.   

I returned to California in time to join Carol Shelton at Sonoma Vineyards for harvest there in 1983.  Carol was a tremendous source of information about the business, and her encouragement, industry savvy, and friendship provide me with wonderful memories of those early days in my career. 

Next, I was off to visit the wineries of New Zealand, then harvest in the Barossa Valley (Australia).  I worked at a large winery just outside the small town of Angaston, South Australia, and loved seeing and hearing Kookaburras in the Eucalyptus trees near the outdoor fermentation tanks.  This facility also created the spirits for Seagram’s Australia, and I was able to experience the production and bottling of distilled spirits for the first and only time in my career.   

I came back to California in the mid 1980s, working various jobs at wineries around Napa Valley for a few years before settling as Lab Director at Silverado Vineyards in 1987, then Assistant Winemaker at Robert Pepi Winery in 1991.  Bob Pepi sold his winery and vineyards to Kendall Jackson in 1994, so I was able to experience work with a very small family-owned estate winery as well as, after the winery sale, a year-long stint as an employee of Kendall-Jackson, obviously a much larger operation with a very different style of management.   

Ultimately, a series of life events clarified to me that self-employment would be best for me.  I sought the flexibility of self-employment not only to be able to flex my work schedule around family commitments but also to be able to work with particular vineyards around Napa Valley that I found interesting and exciting.  Celia Welch Consulting started in 1991, thirty-one years ago, and continues to grow and thrive. 

Do you feel your UC Davis experience benefited your career?  
Do I think UC Davis benefited my career?  Yes, absolutely.  The coursework, the connections to classmates and alumni, the ongoing research…everything about my time at UC Davis was a tremendous investment in my career and has continued to provide me with professional growth as well as personal friendships and community. 

What is the most rewarding part of being in the industry/your job? 
The parts of winemaking that I find the most personally satisfying are threefold.  I love the creativity involved in taking a single variety (I work primarily with Cabernet Sauvignon) and helping it develop into the wine that beautifully defines its growing conditions and the unique features of that particular vintage.  Also, I love working with a very broad cross-section of Californians, ranging from our newest residents to longtime California families who have had their roots in Napa Valley for several generations.  Finally, my work with multiple different vineyards around Napa Valley and beyond have allowed me to provide interesting and challenging mentorship opportunities for young winemakers-in-training, and I very much enjoy the opportunity to share my knowledge and experiences. 

What are some of the most difficult challenges you have faced in the grape or wine industry? 
The biggest challenge I’ve had in the industry hails back to a really poor decision I made in high school, when I decided to study French instead of Spanish.  Working in California agriculture would have been both easier and more rewarding if I had studied Spanish earlier in my life.  I should probably have taken a few business classes along the way as well.  

Is there anything you would like to share with current UCD V&E students? 
To the current students, I would say: Don’t be afraid to dream big.  If you dream of working in other countries, or owning your own business/vineyard/winery, it’s all possible.  You’re receiving the best training in winemaking available.  Take it and use it to create your perfect reality. 

How has the pandemic affected you? 
The pandemic has certainly changed life everywhere in many ways.  Thankfully, California winery workers are considered essential, so we were able to get back to work fairly quickly after a brief shutdown in early 2020.  The supply chain is still interrupting life for us as we plan on very long lead times for imported goods (barrels, wine bottles, capsules, etc), but thankfully the whole world still appreciates a great bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet, so we’re carrying on with life as best we can and doing everything possible to stay healthy. 

What is one unique thing about you? 
One unique thing about me?  Hmm, tough question.  I don’t think it’s unique, but I will say that my father was both a home-winemaking enthusiast and also a very enthusiastic outdoorsman, and he loved encouraging his children to spend weekends downhill and cross-country skiing, backpacking, day-hiking, and exploring throughout Southern Oregon.  I’ve continued to backpack, ski, and explore the Sierras and beyond, often with friends from UCD, and at the encouragement of another UCD alum have just recently started rock climbing and back-country skiing.  It’s been many decades since I availed myself of the “Adventure College” outings at UCD, but I’m still gathering new adventures!