Vintner in the Making

For her 21st birthday, Chelsea Karsten didn’t request the usual: clothes, money, or a car. She asked her mother and stepfather for a wine-tasting trip to the Napa Valley—and got one.

Over three days, Chelsea sampled a variety of wines, talked to vintners, and impressed them with her discerning palette and knowledge of the grape. She tasted one white and detected a touch of lavender. Other red wines revealed nutty or chocolate flavors to her.”You have to get that girl to think about going into the wine business,” one winemaker said.”Don’t worry,” replied her mother. “She already is.”

Was it fate that led Chelsea Karsten to plan her future around wine?

Not according to this philosophy major, whose senior thesis attempts to disprove the theory of fatalism. While her family encouraged travel, appreciated good food and wine, and educated their older teenagers on the responsible use of alcohol by allowing them an occasional glass of wine at the dinner table—the family passion was economics and politics. That wasn’t for Chelsea. “I think in a more abstract, oblique way,” she says.

Upon her mother’s advice, she took every class at Scripps that looked interesting and discovered a love for philosophy. One of her first classes was “Philosophy of Feminism” with Professor Susan Castagnetto. “It was difficult, but I liked the challenge,” she says.

So how did a philosophy major end up pursuing viniculture? “With winemaking,” says Chelsea, “there’s a huge philosophical connection: philosophy allows one to learn how to think outside the box, and to develop, create, and grow in such a way that leads to the advancement of oneself in the process.The give and take of the land ties in with the concept of reciprocity in life and the idea of a cyclical nature; it’s a relationship with the land. And by making wine, you’re creating something not only for yourself, but for others as well.”

This summer, Chelsea begins working at Babcock Vineyards in Lompoc, assisting owner-winemaker Bryan Babcock. She’ll do everything from testing Ph balances to picking up the mail. Then, in early 2006, she plans to travel to South America, ideally Chile, to work in a vineyard for a year.

Ultimately, Chelsea hopes to be head winemaker of her own vineyard. But, she is asked, isn’t starting one’s own winery a difficult and risky business?

Chelsea doesn’t miss a beat with her answer: “If you put your head to it, work your butt off, anything’s possible. I believe in challenging yourself. In pushing yourself to the boundaries of your comfort level, you’re able to learn more about yourself, and in the process, begin to realize your own personal strengths, capabilities, and interests.” And then, no doubt, she’ll relax with a glass of good Cabernet.