Chemist and connoisseur Noel Powell ’93 got his first taste for winemaking in Irvine, Calif., while he earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of California. The self-described “farm kid from southwest Iowa” initially found his way to the Irvine campus through a summer internship he completed as a Central College student. He returned to Irvine for graduate school, where friends introduced him to the surrounding wine country and the world of fine wine.
After several years of collecting wine and talking with winemakers, Powell bought a wine kit to try making his own wine and fell in love with the process. A decade later, after trial-and-error practice and earning a professional winemaker certificate from the oenology program at UC Davis, Powell decided to embark on a second career as a commercial winemaker and founded Aaronap Cellars in Westford, Mass. “Wine is really just chemistry in a bottle, with a lot of art and history thrown in,” Powell says. “It allows me to get back to my farm roots while combining so many of my interests.”
Powell had entered Central as a history major but said his first class with Louise Zaffiro, professor emerita of chemistry, led him in another direction. “What got me into chemistry was that I loved making something in a flask and doing the analysis,” Powell says. Analytical chemistry with Cathy Haustein and organic chemistry classes with Art Bosch sealed the deal.
Powell says studying at Central gave him opportunities to dabble in many different fields — from chemistry to organ lessons. “As a project leader today, you have to be versatile and flexible,” Powell says, “so having a broad liberal arts background gives me an advantage over someone who specialized from day one.”
After graduate school, Powell entered the pharmaceutical industry as a medicinal chemist and worked to design new drugs for oncology, immunology, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular and psychiatric diseases. Over the past 15 years, Powell has worked for leading drug companies, and he is currently associate director of chemistry at Sunovion Pharmaceuticals in Marlborough, Mass.
While Powell has made good use of his chemical education, he has also been an avid student of amateur winemaking—a new direction for his chemistry skills.
Now, Powell says he also sees Aaronap Cellars as a retirement plan. “The winery is hands-on and growing more quickly than expected.”
Powell released his first wines to the public in May and says he is extremely pleased with the response. He recently obtained a wine shipping license for the state of Iowa, so residents over 21 can order Aaronap Cellars’ wines direct from www.aaronapcellars.com.
Powell’s advice to young entrepreneurs? Get as broad an education as you can — and take a business class. “The journey I’ve taken since leaving Central has culminated in my dream of opening my own winery,” Powell says. “Follow what makes you happy — the key is figuring out how to get paid to have fun!”