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Grape Expectations

Friday, December 4, 2015
Andy in a tasting room

As manager of the tasting room and wine club at HKG Estate Wines in California's Russian River Valley, Andy loves loves nothing better than visiting with the guests and sharing his expertise. He is particularly fond of Pinot Noir.

After a "total reboot," alumnus finds promising career in California's Russian River Valley

by Mary Denny

Andy Hayes '99 B.S. B.A., Finance Concentration

Buffeted by circumstances beyond his control, Andy Hayes has been forced to shift careers dramatically, but he has handled the moves with deftness and determination. He has managed property, sold real estate, done hard manual labor, developed a taste for Pinot Noir, and learned that he is a "hospitality-based person who works best in a collaborative team environment." This is his story.

Andy HayesA native of Milwaukee, Andy had never heard of Trinity until his high school guidance counselor helped him assemble a list of potential small, liberal arts colleges outside the Midwest. On a 1995 Trinity In Focus visit, Andy was impressed with the University's academic reputation, beautiful campus, and small class sizes. However, he admits it was the offer of a Presidential Scholarship that quickly whittled his list of eight colleges down to one.

He majored in business administration and says his most memorable class was professor Daryl Waldron's "Business Policy."

"It was through our semester-end case study project that I began to really understand all the different facets and divisions that work together to make a corporation," he says.

Serendipitously, he ended up with a minor in Spanish, thanks to the encouragement and guidance of his first adviser, Spanish professor Florence Weinberg.

Having spent summers working in his father's residential property management company, Andy gravitated toward the field, and upon graduation he was hired by Trinity alumna Susan Sweet at Rector Management in San Antonio. A year later, at his father's request, Andy returned home to help address some issues with the family business.

"I really didn't want to go back," he admits, "but when family calls, you have to respond."

Once his family commitment was fulfilled—it took a year and half—Andy moved to California where he managed new luxury high-rise apartment communities in San Francisco's Mission Bay and South of Market districts for Avalon Bay Communities. After honing his skills in sales, customer service, budget management, and collections for seven years, Andy fell victim to the economic downturn when his position in the company was eliminated.

"Like so many others, I was out of work for longer than I could have imagined," he recalls.

In 2011 he began selling insurance products for AFLAC in Sonoma County. Even though he says it was a great company to work for, "to be honest, I did this just to have a job, not because of zeal for insurance." Thanks to the impending Affordable Care Act, small companies were not interested in offering any new benefit packages for their employees, and Andy became all too accustomed to hearing "No" from business owners. "I realized I needed a serious change in my career path—a total reboot."

Happily, his sister, a winemaker in the Alexander Valley, encouraged him to investigate a career in the wine industry. Starting from the ground up, Andy took a job working the 2012 harvest.

"I knew I had to be humble and willing to do anything," he says, and started out cleaning and sanitizing tanks and equipment. "Once harvest was over, after working 10 hours a day, six days a week, for three months, I realized this was the industry for me."

During the off-season, Andy took wine business management classes at Sonoma State University and in 2013 landed an internship at Siduri Wines in Santa Rosa, Ca., a well-respected Pinot Noir winery owned by winemaker and Trinity alumnus Adam Lee.

"Adam works so hard and seems to enjoy every minute of it and that becomes infectious to those working around him," reports Andy. "During harvest, we were working 50-60 hours a week but having a blast and learning a lot. I learned that winemaking is a perfect marriage of agriculture, science, and art."

He also developed a great love for the delicate Pinot Noir grape.

Following his cellar internship at Siduri, Andy went to work in the tasting room at HKG Estate Wines in the Russian River Valley. He was recently promoted and currently manages the tasting room staff and the winery's wine club. Although now he deals more with sales projection, compliance, logistics, and the marketing side of the industry, he still likes to sneak into the tasting room and chat with guests about wine from time to time.

Continuing his education in the wine industry, Andy recently completed Level I of the Court of Master Sommeliers program in May and plans to continue on to the next levels as he hones his palate and aspires to become general manager of a winery.

Harvest season usually precludes his attendance at Alumni Weekends, but Andy says, "I will always remember Trinity fondly and keep in contact with a lot of old friends. Every year it seems I am taking vacation to go somewhere to see one of my Kappa Kappa Delta brothers get married. It's always a great time to catch up and reminisce."

Andy can be reached at ahayes77 [at] earthlink.net.