Sanne Poulsen had been working in agribusiness management and marketing when she moved to Marlborough—New Zealand’s wine country. After relocating, Poulsen made friends with people in the wine industry and became intrigued by the profession. “When the opportunity to do vintage presented itself, I fully embraced it and never looked back,” she said. Now, Poulsen manages the winery laboratory for Babich Wines.
Transitioning to a new career was a steep learning curve. “Initially when I entered the industry, I had limited knowledge of winemaking and winery processes in general,” said Poulsen. “And working within a small team in my first job meant it was necessary to pick up a very diverse skillset pretty quickly.”
Poulsen was fortunate to spend some vintages in Burgundy, France and England, learning and experiencing the development of unique types of wine all over the world. “While I experienced the practical and operational aspects of winemaking through my work, I needed something to tie all these experiences together and improve my technical understanding underlying these processes,” she said. Looking to invest in her education to balance the practical and technical skills, she found the UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education Winemaking Certificate Program.
Even across the Pacific in New Zealand, Poulsen was familiar with UC Davis’ reputation for excellence in education. “The caliber of teaching staff; learning from people with successful research, consulting and winemaking careers; and the depth of coverage were key.”
Poulsen's busy schedule made the program a challenge, especially given the in-depth nature of the coursework. However, she valued the thorough treatment of topics, and the online format made completing the certificate achievable.
“Flexibility was another thing that was very important to me, which I think the program does very well,” she said. Poulsen pointed to the small class sizes, as well as the interaction with students and teachers as highlights of the program.
Poulsen says her confidence in her technical understanding of winemaking and real-life application has greatly improved, and she credits the instructors in the program for their quality and expertise. “Not only were the course leaders brilliant, but it was a real treat to have guest lecturers—who are specialists in their area of research—share their knowledge and passion for various topics,” she said. One of her biggest takeaways was the importance of understanding and appreciating the implications of winemaking decisions and how costly mistakes can be.
Now that she has completed the program, Poulsen plans to keep advancing her career in the industry, moving toward a winemaking role, and continuing to develop her skills and knowledge along the way. “I have already recommended the program to two friends who are also changing careers to the wine industry, like me, and have good practical skills but are a bit light on the technical background.”