Meet Drew Horton

May 20, 2024
Drew Horton

Meet the many integral members of the department and learn about their horticultural career journey in our series, This is my Hort-Story

Current job title: Enology Specialist/HORT1031 Instructor
Current lab/team: HRC Grape Breeding & Enology Project/Teh Lab
How long you’ve worked in the Department of Horticultural Science: Interim position 2014, Full time staff since 2016
Pronouns: he/him/his

The thing that brought me to a career in horticulture was…

I really didn’t know I was heading into a career in horticulture until I accepted a job with the UMN grape breeding and enology program 10 years ago. Before starting at the university,  I moved from California to Minnesota because I had just heard about the UMN grape breeding project and the new grape that was released, Marquette (a relative of pinot noir). In California, I had been active in the wine industry for a number of years as a wine salesman, then working in production as a cellarmaster and eventually as a commercial winemaker, so this news about the Marquette grape was very exciting to me. At the time, I didn’t know anything about grape breeding. My bachelor's degree was in anthropology, and I didn’t have a background in plant science or research wine making. 

When I first came to Minnesota, I reached out to my friends John and Jenny Thull and they invited me to tour the Horticulture Research Center (HRC). When I first walked into the HRC, I thought “this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” My timing ended up being perfect, as someone was leaving their role and they needed an interim winemaker. I worked in this interim position until accepting a full time role in 2015 as a field specialist wine maker with Midwest Grape and Wine Institute in Iowa. After about a year in Iowa, I attended a grape project meeting at the University of Minnesota, announcing the new Itasca grape and was able to express my interest in working for the project, and the rest is history! Never in my wildest dreams did I think that this is what my career would be. This 2024 harvest will be my 10th wine harvest with the University and my 25th harvest as a winemaker. 

The most enjoyable/rewarding part of my work is…

Being the first winemaker in the known universe who gets to make and taste wine from a brand new grape that no one has ever tasted before. I also really enjoy that no two days are the same. I’m so lucky, I get to do research, outreach, extension, teaching and work with winemakers. There’s no way I could ever get bored. I’m so proud of the University and the work we’re doing. 

Three years ago I started teaching the Vines and Wines course (HORT 1031). I didn’t realize it would be so satisfying to see a student raise their hand in class and ask a question that takes their knowledge of the subject matter into the next realm. I love “seeing the lights go on” so to speak. Getting to work with graduate students and helping facilitate their research has also provided me with so much exposure to different areas of science.

People may be surprised to know that…

I spent 8 years filming sharks for a living. Before my career in winemaking, I was a photographer/videographer for a television production company. This line of work allowed me to travel to 32 countries, filming wildlife (specifically sharks), and cultures around the world.  

When I’m not working you can find me…

 In the kitchen! My first love is cooking, I also have a veggie garden and I love to boat and fish.