Thomas Cernac, a recent graduate of the Winemaking Certificate Program, is a retired U.S. Air Force mechanic and now a vineyard manager and winemaker in El Dorado County, California. Cernac was always interested in winemaking and had some experience with making his own small batches. But as he was approaching retirement, he realized that winemaking would be great way to pursue his passion once he retired.
As a retired vehicle mechanic, he enjoyed working with his hands and the freedom of not being stuck in an office. Winemaking affords him those same benefits. “I like being outside and moving around,” he said.
Cernac, who has been making wine for eight years, said that while his passion for winemaking made the transition from military service easy, it is still a significant financial investment. “You don’t retire and decide to make wine to make money,” he said. “You do it because you love it. It has to be a passion.”
As a veteran, Cernac took full advantage of his VA benefits. “UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education made it extremely easy to use my benefits and they worked everything out with my VA Department,” said Cernac. “It’s important for veterans to understand their VA entitlements and how to use them.”
Since completing the certificate program in 2019, Cernac is looking ahead to planting 3,000 vines this spring and moving into a winery building. “The most valuable thing from the certificate program was the connections I established with both the instructors and fellow students,” he said. “The instructors have a wide background of experience with true hands-on expertise that you can tap into.”
For other veterans considering entering the winemaking industry, Cernac offers the following advice: “have a solid business plan, strategize, take the courses seriously and take advantage of your VA benefits.”