Chemistry alumna finds liberal arts balance in winemaking profession

February 12, 2024

Still in her first job out of Albion, Kayla McQuinn ’20, a biology major, knows the fall season is challenging — but has its rewards. “Harvest and fermentation are exciting because this is when we get all new wines to work with,” McQuinn said. “Plus, I never get sick of eating wine grapes, Sauvignon Blanc is my personal favorite.”

As assistant winemaker for St. Julian Winery in Paw Paw, MI, McQuinn is involved in every step of the winemaking process from vineyard to bottle, a process that combines art with the science she studied at Albion. Along with tasting grapes (and, yes, wine in various stages of development), McQuinn spends a lot of time in the lab. “There are aspects of wine that only the nose can do, but we also rely heavily on lab analysis,” McQuinn said. She tracks the production of 250,000 cases each year and works with 50 different grape varieties.

McQuinn’s association with St. Julian began with an internship during the 2020 harvest season. “At the time, I had been a teaching assistant at Albion for several semesters, so I was comfortable working in a lab and overseeing one as well,” McQuinn said. “My background at Albion was biology, so I think my oversight of our lab is where I excel, but what I love most about this job is how hands-on it is; no two days are the same. One day I may be in the barrel cellar, another I’m in the lab running chemistry, and another I may be out in the vineyard.”

At Albion, McQuinn was also president of the Biochemistry Club and vice president of operations for Kappa Delta sorority.

McQuinn gives much credit to the team at St. Julian. “Our entire production crew is like family, and without any of them, the wine doesn’t happen,” McQuinn said.

“My role has increased my appreciation for wine,” McQuinn said. “Now I know how much work goes into every glass. I hope to stay in a winemaking position for the remainder of my career.”