Kelby Russell, Winemaker
What did you study at Harvard?
Government, with a minor in Economics, from the College (Class of 2009).
Were you involved with any food or wine activities while a student?
Any and all that I could find! I was very fortunate to win the Patterson Fellowship for travel to Italy between my Junior and Senior years, with my main proposal being to travel to Italy and learn about the wine and food culture by working in exchange for housing. It was there that I dissevered my love for wine while working at Castello di Potentino in Southern Tuscany. When I came back to college the next year, my interest was piqued and I made sure to sign-up for Tom Conley's wine seminar in Kirkland House. From there, the rest is history.
More informally, I feel like a owe a huge debt to Formaggio Kitchen for opening my mind to the possibilities of food and wine from the time I was a hungry freshman.
Do you think that Harvard has prepared you for a career in food and wine or hospitality in general? If so, how?
As a Harvard graduate in a field where people do not expect to find one, I often get asked this question in regards to my Government degree. My tongue-in-cheek answer? I make an alcoholic beverage, the government is very interested in what I do.
The truth, however, is that the critical thinking skills I learned in college are ultimately what make me the winemaker I am. Certainly there is a level of natural tasting ability and talent, but problem solving and personal interaction are the real crux of being a successful winemaker. Nature is the least compromising of all possible bosses; learning how to work hard and stay calm under pressure have helped me more than I can ever repay.
What work do you do now?
My day-to-day position is as head winemaker for Red Newt Cellars, a small, Riesling-focused winery in my native Finger Lakes region of New York State. Via that position I also have my own wine label under my name, as well as being the consulting winemaker on the Empire Estate wine project in connection with the Made Nice Restaurant Group (Eleven Madison Park. Nomad, Nomad LA).
Websites that are relevant to your work or special interests: