Michael McClendon, ‘09

April 1, 2024

Life’s twists and turns lead us to unexpected places. For Michael McClendon, a journey toward a Bachelor of Science in biology from The University of Texas at Tyler transitioned into a career in fermentation science and winemaking.

Michael McClendon Headshot

McClendon started UT Tyler with a singular goal in mind — apply to medical school to become a doctor. Yet, in 2008, an internship with a local winery offered by the then-chair of the Department of Biology steered him in a different direction.

At the winery, McClendon applied the concepts from his biology and chemistry classes — for example, managing oxygen, keeping microbes in check and inspecting fruit — to ferment and bottle the beverage. After graduation, the winery promoted him to enologist and eventually to head winemaker.

McClendon also had his eye on entrepreneurship. In 2017, he co-founded his own custom crush winery, Sage’s Vintage. Located in Nacogdoches, Texas, Sage’s Vintage produces more than 80 labels managed by nearly 30 wineries.

McClendon now seeks to educate other biology and chemistry students about the growing field of fermentation science and its career possibilities. Efforts encompass Sage’s own symposium, a presence at UT Tyler’s Career Success Conference and supporting a fermentation science track for the BS in chemistry program. These channels not only educate undergraduates considering these majors but also create an outlet for graduate students to contribute to the growing body of knowledge surrounding wine production.

If you were a type of wine, which would you be and why?

If I were a type of wine, I would be something that is approachable but exciting and can be enjoyed. So, I would be champagne because it is a celebration, and everybody loves bubbles!

What does a typical day in your life look like?

There is no such thing as a typical day as an owner/operator. The industry of wine is very seasonal. Right now, it is harvest season, so the days are long. It is also about communicating internally and externally. We work with more than 20 customers, so a lot of winemaking is communicating with them and understanding what their goals are and how we can help them achieve those goals.

What is something you have recently tried for the first time?

I tried working with a grape variety I am not very familiar with. Malvasia Bianca is a Mediterranean white grape variety. We just got the fruit in, so we are doing production on it. Tasting it up front, it has some nice, rich notes and a little bit of melon undertone. I tend to like white wines because they are so delicate and nuanced. I am excited to see what happens with that in the long run.

What is the most important thing you learned during your time at UT Tyler?

A big part of being at UT Tyler is getting exposure to fantastic instructors and teachers. You are one-on-one with professors. Instead of having to go through a TA, you can walk into a professor’s office and ask questions about what is going on in anatomy or what you are supposed to do in the lab. A lot of times, college is about figuring things out, but you will never have to do that alone at UT Tyler.

Who would you want to play you in the movie of your life?

I would play myself in the movie about my life because nobody can do it like I can. But I would for sure call on Ryan Coogler for some directing help.  

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