At Niagara’s Freedom Run Winery, Production and Education Meet

A short distance up the road from Eveningsong Vineyard, profiled yesterday, is Freedom Run Winery, where Kurt Guba, a former actor turned sommelier and cellar master, presides over the winemaking process.

Born in the whaling town of New Bedford, trained as an actor at the Boston Conservatory, Guba always had work. But, he says, after five years he “no longer wanted to be on the bus,” touring and performing in one town after the other. After getting married, he took sommelier courses, was hired by a winery, and learned he was more interested in chemistry — in producing wine rather than simply selection or describing it.

Still, he concedes, he loves to talk about wine, which is why he teaches part-time at Niagara County Community College. With tourism agriculture being the No. 1 industry and tourism the No. 2 industry in the county, the college has strong programs in agriculture and culinary arts — including both wine and beverage management certificate and an associate’s degree in winery operations, as well as the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute.

He started at another local winery in 2005, working in the tasting room. But when the opportunity presented itself, he moved into winemaking in 2008.

We wondered how he learned about winemaking. Largely, he said, by talking to other winemakers, lots of interviews and “finding mistakes and figuring out how to fix them.”

What has to be done depends on the season. Getting ready for a new crush entails cleaning tanks (“90% of winemaking,” he says, is cleaning” — hot, sweaty work done is an old bathing suit). Other times it’s lab work. Sometimes it’s speaking in public on behalf of the winery.

And when he’s not doing that, he’s overseeing interns or teaching in Niagara County Community College’s Winery Operations program. The recovering actor has discovered what all teachers know — teaching requires acting skills. Now he’s thinking about getting the appropriate Ph.D. (in history) so he could become a regular faculty member.

As for those interns providing “free labor,” forget it, Guba says. “They’re not there just to work, but to learn. So you have to show them everything. In terms of just accomplishing a task, you could do it faster yourself.”

Freedom Run has 15 acres planted to vineS out of 155 total. The winery plans to add another 5 acres in the future, Guba says. It currently produces 7,000 to 8,000 cases a year.

Tomorrow: What’s a Computer Science Degree Get You? A Winery and Wholesalers


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