By Benjamin Ginsburg
Karl Antink ’99 remembers the 1980s as a time when winemaking was pushing into new frontiers. His father would take him to vineyards and wineries to tour, meet people and spend time together.
“Not that I was drinking at the time, mind you,” said Antink with a chuckle. “The industry was experiencing a lot of growth while I was in high school, and later on I got started with home brewing and stuff like that.”
Antink’s father worked for Liquor Barn at the time, and Antink would work for him during holidays and breaks from school. From early on, he was interested in the craftsmanship and precision involved in winemaking and related industries.
When he entered UC Davis, Antink participated in the Master Brewers Extension Program but switched to a fermentation science major after developing a deeper interest in winemaking over brewing in his first year.
“My time at UC Davis was much more than the networking: it was a top-notch education,” Antink said. “The vineyard professors were both brilliant and generous; I probably just scratched the surface of what they had to teach. I frequently go back to my class notes and old textbooks. Those years have served me well.”
Even before graduation, Antink began pursuing winemaking professionally. In 1997, he was hired as enologist at St. Helena’s Folie à Deux, where he worked for the next three years. By the time he graduated, Antink was assistant winemaker, supervising all day-to-day winery operations.
In 2000, Antink became winemaker for the family- owned Von Strasser Winery, continuing his administrative work and adding a hefty artistic element as well. He was a guiding mind behind Von Strasser’s collection of wines for the next five years.
“With winemaking, every year starts out new. You only get one shot a year with winemaking. Every vintage is a little bit different, and I like the challenge that poses,” he said. “It’s not just a business; it’s your style and skills on display for everyone. The endpoint of all your efforts is out there for the public to evaluate.”
In 2006, Antink began working at J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, where he has been white winemaker since 2013. He has spearheaded a number of new wines for J. Lohr, including the J. Lohr Highlands Bench Chardonnay and the J. Lohr Estates Flume Crossing Sauvignon Blanc.
“White wines are more fragile than reds, so they take more care,” he said. “It’s more difficult to get those varietal aromatics and flavors from the grapes and preserve that character. The focus on white wines has greatly advanced my knowledge; there’s always something to learn, and we’re always experimenting, looking for something new and better.”
Antink maintains his connection with UC Davis and the Alumni Wine Program out of a continuing interest to learn, hone, and develop his craftsmanship and winemaking. The Alumni Wine Program also serves as an additional venue to show off the best examples of his work from J. Lohr. He is a regular attendant at annual events like Wine Flavor 101 and Recent Advancements in Viticulture and Enology (RAVE). For Antink, the value of these events lies not just in the information imparted, but also in the interactions they enable between winemakers.
“It’s a very open industry when it comes to sharing information. You always meet new people at the events, and a lot of these folks were my classmates at UC Davis,” he said.
Antink has no doubt that the attention to detail he developed while at UC Davis was fundamental to his success and precision in his career. He still gets excited about supplementing his education, even 15 years after graduation.
“There’s a huge emphasis on education at J. Lohr. Jerry [Meier, Director of Winemaking] loves working with UC Davis, and all of our winemakers are UC Davis graduates,” he said. “We do a lot of precise, technical stuff at J. Lohr, and getting a chance to do that in a lab while I was in school was really valuable.”