There are winemakers who are self-taught and others who have completed degrees in oenology and food science. There is no better way to do it, both paths can lead to a successful career, and the right choice for you will really depend on your learning style, how much money you can spend and little bit of luck and talent.
Learning by working in the industry and through books and online resources is one way to do it. While it is cheaper, it also will probably take longer, and if you are looking to get a job for an established winery as a winemaker, it’s definitely going to be harder if you have no degree. As many winemakers start out with a career in a different field, this can be a great option for them.
To complement the above, you can take on an apprenticeship and learn the ropes from someone who already has experience in the field. At the same time, you have the option of taking classes and workshops without actually completing a full degree.
If you do prefer to go to college and get a Bachelor’s in Oenology, Viticulture or Food Science, this can be a great path. You will learn the technical and scientific aspects of the winemaking process, and most programs will offer some courses covering the business side of the industry as well. Don’t forget though that you will still have to do apprenticeships or internships with local or international wineries in order to get the hands-on learning experience.
WHAT IF I DO WANT A DEGREE IN OENOLOGY OR VITICULTURE ?
- University of California – Davis
Located an hour away from the heart of wine country, UC Davis offers a BS and an MS in Viticulture and Oenology, as well as certificate programs in winemaking. This is one of the best recognized schools in the US when it comes to oenology. Tuition is an average of $13,896 for California residents and $36,774 for out-of-state students.
- California State University – Fresno
Once again located in California, where most of the wine in the US is produced, CSU Fresno offers BS programs in Oenology or Viticulture, an MS in Viticulture and Oenology and a special certificate program for those looking to hone their skills. Tuitions is an estimate of $3,149.50 for 7+ units.
- Washington State University
WSU in Richland, WA, offers its students a Viticulture and Oenology major in Integrated Plant Sciences, an MS in Viticulture and Oenology, as well as 1.5 year non-credit certificate program. All of the programs cover both technical, as well as business aspects of the field. You can also choose to take a Wine Business Management major. In-state tuition is $11,396 per year and out-of-state stands at $24,478.
- Cornell University
The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at CU, located in Ithaca, NY, offers two Bachelor level concentrations, one in Viticulture and the other in Oenology, with a strong focus on the scientific aspect of the field. The degree can involve a Capstone or an internship, or be completed as a minor. At the graduate level you can obtain a Master of Professional Studies, a Master of Science or a Doctoral degree. In-state tuition is $30,910 per year, while out-of-state is $47,050.
GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR
The general consensus among our experts is that the best way to get started in the industry is through a harvest internship. This means that you work for a winery for 2-3 months during the harvest season when they are the busiest. You will probably have to either work in the cellar or in the vineyard, but you’ll get the opportunity to learn about the industry and get a taste of what it’s like to be a winemaker. It might, in fact, be a good idea to do this before you choose this path as a degree, since it will help you figure out whether you love it or hate it.
While this is the first step, you also need to learn wines before, during and throughout your career as a winemaker. If you have the opportunity to travel, visit vineyards in different areas in the US or even better, around the world, this would truly help build your knowledge and credibility.
You should also join local organizations in your community and get to know people interested in wine. Even if you are not in the main areas of wine-country, there are probably groups of hobby winemakers or just people who love wine. This will help you network, and once again, learn more about the industry.
Be prepared to start from the bottom and make your way up, but this is probably the best way to become a winemaker anyway. You need to understand, know and feel the whole process to make great wine, so don’t be afraid to get down and dirty with this trade.