- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2004

AMITY, Ore. — At a case or so a minute, the bottles come rattling off the filling and corking machine at Amity Vineyards.

Jerry Gherardini wipes them off and puts them neck-down in cases that must be labeled and stacked on pallets. The machine yearns for more empties. The full ones keep coming.

The pace seems endless, and this day’s run is about 4,400 bottles of off-dry Riesling. It should take six hours.

Mr. Gherardini isn’t looking ahead to a vacation, however. He’s taking one.

The Chicago pharmaceutical chemist and basement winemaker is on a Vocation Vacation, the brainchild of Brian Kurth of Portland, Ore. The program is designed for people who want to try out a “dream job” without risking their regular one.

Clients can choose among such outwardly attractive jobs as innkeeper, brew master, winemaker, horse trainer, cheese maker, raceway manager, hunting and fishing guide, professional gardener, pastry chef, and chocolatier, based around the country.

He is talking to more wineries, cattle ranchers, a sportscaster, a major distiller of scotch, golf pros and fashion designers and would like to discuss adding news photography.

Mr. Kurth says he got the idea while he was stuck in traffic on his Chicago commute and started thinking about his lifestyle.

He lost his job in 2001 in the dot-com meltdown and spent six months touring the country.

“I was asking myself, ‘So what life would I rather lead if I had a choice?’” he says.

“I thought that in business, many people are too nervous to just leave, but they do have vacations, time to get out of their cubicles, to test the water.

“I found a lot of people were apologizing for the jobs. They’d say something like, ‘Well, I’m an attorney, but I’d rather be a ….’

“We’re featuring dream jobs, jobs anyone can learn to do with a little initiative,” he says. “Not fantasy jobs, such as a rock star. You may not be qualified to be a rock star.”

His business coincides with changes in how America puts up its feet.

In the Roper Reports 2004 Summer Travel Outlook survey, which tracked a broad range of vacation trends, 64 percent of the 1,000 people polled said the chance to learn new things was “very important” in planning leisure time, up from 51 percent a year earlier. Relaxation came in at 69 percent, down slightly from the previous year.

Mr. Kurth, 38, opened the business in January. Packages range from $599 for something simple to about $5,000 for a week in Alaska with an outfitter. Programs are flexible, but most run about two days.

He says he aims at smaller companies because their owners tend to be more passionate about what they do.

“People who love what they do are more willing to share it,” he says.

Barbara Dau, who operates the St. Bernard Bed and Breakfast in Arch Cape, Ore., on the north coast, took in two women from Chicago and Milwaukee.

“They were slightly disillusioned,” she says. “The two were fabulous, charming, well-poised, just the type of people I would want to represent my inn. But they were surprised by how much work it was.

“The atmosphere here creates a fantasy world,” she adds, “but down in the bowels of the place, you’re doing laundry and chopping onions.”

She says people often come through her inn and say, “I’ve just dreamed of doing something like this.”

“You want to tear out your hair and say, ‘You have no idea,’” she says.

Nevertheless, Miss Dau says she will happily mentor more of the curious.

Mr. Kurth says winemaking so far is the most popular of the choices in the program.

He wants his clients to see their “dream jobs” warts and all, so Mr. Gherardini did more than just wrestle wine cases.

“Yesterday, we tested for titratable acids; we checked for sulfur dioxide and residual sugars,” Mr. Gherardini says of his stint in the winery’s lab. Owner Myron Redford also showed him some of the ins and outs of caring for vines.

“I can feel it in my arms, I can tell you that,” Mr. Gherardini says during a break from helping on the bottling line. “And I’m going to feel it on the flight home.”

He says the vineyard, fair-sized for Oregon at about 10,000 cases a year but tiny by California standards, is far more sophisticated than his basement operation.

He says he could see becoming “a gentleman winemaker, if there is such a thing.”

Winemaking has exploded in Oregon, especially around the postcard-perfect hillside vineyards at Amity. When Mr. Redford began 30 years ago, Oregon had 10 wineries. The state has 260 today, and Mr. Kurth is trolling for more of them to be mentors.

Mr. Kurth says he hopes people will see beyond the glamour.

“The fishing-and-outfitter package involves a trip to Alaska,” he says. “They don’t just guide. They set up tents, they cook.”

Kelly Shafer, a Fort Worth, Texas, writer, spent time with a horse trainer at Four Mountains Ranch near Portland.

“It was wonderful. I’d do it again, but it gave me a clear picture of how much work is involved,” she says of the experience, which included hands-on horse time and dirty work such as mucking out stalls.

She says she loves horses and vacations where they are when she can.

She notes that the owners started small, with one horse, and grew from there, but says that with five children and four dogs at home, she isn’t sure about trying it herself yet.

“For me, it’s something I might be able to do someday, but I can’t right now,” she says. “It was a chance to test-drive it.”

Mr. Kurth says nobody has jumped to a “dream job” as a result of his fledgling program yet, and he wouldn’t want them to do that on a whim.

“Be smart. Take calculated risks, but don’t be foolish. This is a tool to start the process,” he says.

He says some women buy packages for their husbands. “Women tend to be a little more holistic than their husbands, who are more concerned with being a provider,” he says.

He says two women, both financial advisers, recently finished a package with a cheese maker in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. A nuclear pharmacist looking for a break from dealing with cancer patients is coming to work with a professional gardener at the Oregon State Garden or Portland’s test rose garden.

Gail Haskett of Vancouver, Wash., used the program as a surprise gift for her husband, Steve, who has been cranking out award-winning home brew from his garage for years.

“I arranged for my husband to become brew master for a day at the Full Sail brewery in Hood River,” she says. He picked up some ideas but found commercial brewing too chemistry-oriented.

“I told him [the gift] involved water. He doesn’t like water; he was terrified that I had arranged for windsurfing or something,” she says.

When they got to Hood River, she says, Mr. Kurth had left a brochure that said, “Congratulations, you are going to be a brew master for a day.”

“It was the best gift I’ve ever given him,” Mrs. Haskett says.

Vocation Vacations places vacationers in “dream jobs” as innkeepers brew masters, winemakers, horse trainers, cheese makers, raceway managers, hunting and fishing guides, professional gardeners, pastry chefs or chocolatiers at various locations. Packages range from $599 for something simple to about $5,000 for a week in Alaska with an outfitter. Programs are flexible, but most run about two days. Check www.vocationvacations.com or call 866/888-6329.

Amity Vineyards’ address is 18150 Amity Vineyards Road, Amity, OR 97101. Contact www.amityvineyards.com or 888/AMITY-66.

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