1

Learn the Basics of Winemaking

Winemakers fulfill many different functions at a winery.  They include, determining the right time to harvest the grapes, which depends on sweetness, acidity and level of moisture of each variety. They might manage harvesting and transportation of the grapes to stores, wineries, etc.  They supervise crushing or stomping of the grapes, how much yeast sulfites and sugar to add, and use vats and pumps to ferment the wine prior to transferring into steel or wood barrels for aging. They also might perform maintenance on the pumps, repair barrels, and supervise and manage temperature control equipment.  A wine maker will oversee laboratory technicians who sample the wine to gauge its composition of chemicals and sweetness to decide when the best time is to bottle the product. As the chemical composition changes, the winemaker determines when the wine is ready for bottling. This step is make or break for a particular vintage, and is one of the key reasons a highly skilled winemaker is so important.

Of course, winemaking isn't for everyone, and being a great winemaker requires a substantial and varied skill set. In addition to having a deep and nuanced appreciation of wine and its many varieties, winemakers need to have a strong understanding of the winemaking process from start to finish, as well as the various ways to alter the process to create different types of wine.

Winemakers also need to have an attention to detail, the ability to be patient (since winemaking is a multi-year process), and have at least a moderate understanding of the technical and chemical aspects of the winemaking process. On top of that, a successful winemaker must know how to market his or her wine.

2

Learn Formal Techniques & Theory

In the past, winemaking didn't involve a great deal of formal education. Winemaking was an art passed down from generation to generation, via apprenticeships, or simply by working one's way up in a winery. Fortunately today, there are specific programs and certifications that can help prepare a winemaker for the duties he or she will perform. While there are no mandatory prerequisites, there are several degrees that can help advance an aspiring winemaker's career.

A bachelor's degree in a relevant field can be useful when becoming a winemaker. Examples of useful degrees include enology, viniculture, and food science. For the science-minded  individual, degrees in biology, agricultural technology, or chemistry can be very useful as well. UC Davis in California is known for having a particularly respected set of programs geared towards aspiring winemakers.

Winemakers also need to have a thorough knowledge of all the legal aspects of winemaking, including the various rules and regulations in different parts of the United States. For winemakers outside of the United States, it can be difficult to find one cohesive set of rules. Therefore, spending time working under a winemaker at a winery continues to be an excellent way to get hands-on education and experience. 

3

Build Your Personal Brand & Develop Industry Connections

Unless you've been fermenting wine in your garage for the past few years, chances are you don't have a great deal of experience, of course unless you’ve been working in a winery for a few years and have vintages that you can take (at least partial) credit for. In the early part of a career in winemaking, experience and credentials will likely be your primary resume.

Working as an intern or an apprentice is also a great way to build a name, or "brand" for yourself. If you can, create a simple online blog with your story, and include relevant experiences you've had in the winemaking industry. Fortunately, apprenticeships tend to be readily available during the harvest season, since wineries need lots of extra hands on deck during the two- to three-month harvest period.

Unless you get very lucky, networking will likely be fundamental to landing your dream job as a winemaker. The winemaking industry is surprisingly close-knit, particularly on a regional basis, so making a good impression can go a long way. While in school, forming mentor relationships with professors and interning under professorial winemakers can be valuable resources when applying for jobs.

In terms of formal organizations, there are several to choose from. The Wine Industry Network, or WIN, is a B2B organization that encompasses the majority of the North American Wine Industry. There are also lots of regional winemaker organizations and events, so make sure to do some online research on the specific region you want to work in and attend events in that area.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics, predicts five percent growth for enologists, which are part of the technologist and food scientist field. But, as wine is popular all over the world, a skilled winemaker can always find work. Completing a degree program is also advised if looking to top the list of potential employers.

Get to Know Our Experts

Clarissa Nagy

  • Title:
    Consulting Winemaker
  • Company:
    Riverbench
  • Where:
    Santa Maria, CA
  • Experience:
    19 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    I studied Food Science at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I planned on making organic foods with little or no preservatives. While interning at a sensory and marketing research company, I worked with 2 different wineries. When I realized I could use my love for sensory in winemaking, I was all in. I took a harvest internship at Edna Valley Vineyard. From there, I worked at several different wineries throughout the Central Coast, including Firestone, Byron, Longoria, Bonaccorsi and now Riverbench.

    Leading up to harvest, I am in the vineyards. Once the fruit starts coming in, I am at the picks first thing and then off to the cellar for morning punch downs and Delestage. Then I’m back in the vineyard to make picking decisions and then back to cellar work and inoculations.

    I love not having a desk job. I love the variety of things I do and that my labor of love can be shared with others over a meal.

    Recommended Organizations

    • ASEV (American Society for Enology and Viticulture) is a fabulous organization to stay on top of the current research and trends. The national conference is a great way to connect with others in the industry, network and job hunt.
    • CERA (California Enological Research Association) is a fantastic group to get involved in when first starting out in enology and continuing throughout your career. There are many committees including Winemaking Techniques, Viticulture, Methods of Analysis, and Sensory. It is a great way to see what others are doing and to join in on research projects. There is a wide array of experience and a good group to bounce ideas and perspectives off of regarding various techniques.
    • World Of Pinot Noir Tech Symposium – When I first began working with Pinot Noir, attending these annual seminars were fabulous for learning about Pinot Noir growing regions around the world. Each attending winery brings a wine for discussion. The wines are tasted blind and discussed. Feedback on winemaking techniques, picking decisions and aging techniques is quite helpful in establishing your own style.

    Advice

    Taste as much as possible

    Tasting a variety of wines in a specific region really helps to develop your palate.

    Visit tasting rooms

    Whenever you can, visit tasting rooms that give production tours so you can see various wineries and layouts. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

    Work a harvest at a winery

    This will give you the best experience and allow you to determine if you really want a career in winemaking. The non-glamourous side, stained hands and wet feet helps to put things in perspective rather quickly. I find that people either love it or hate it. If you love it, you’re in the right profession.

    David Ramey

  • Title:
    Owners
  • Company:
    Ramey Wine Cellars
  • Where:
    Healdsburg, CA
  • Experience:
    36 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    I have a BA in American Studies from UC Santa Cruz and an MS in Food Science (Enology) from UC Davis.

    For me, there is no average day, but what I truly love the most is making wine. I do wish, however, I didn’t have to deal with e-mail and tech side of things, but I am the owner, so that comes with the job.

    Understanding My Career Path

    • Master of Science degree in Enology from UC Davis, 1979. Took four quarters of French while there.
    • Worked the harvest of 1979 in Pomerol, France, with Ets. Jean-Pierre Moueix, which owned or managed many properties in Pomerol, St. Emilion and Fronsac, including Chateaux Petrus, La Fleur-Petrus, Magdelaine, Trotanoy, etc.
    • Worked the harvest of 1980 at Lindemans Karadoc winery in the Murray River Valley of Australia, a very large winery specializing in bag-in-the-box “Rhine Riesling” (there being no Riesling in it, nor any grapes from the Rhine).
    • Assistant Winemaker to Zelma Long at Simi, 1980-84
    • Winemaker at Matanzas Creek, 1984-89
    • A second vintage with Ets. Jean-Pierre Moueix in Pomerol
    • Winemaker at Chalk Hill, 1990-96
    • Executive VP and Winemaker, Dominus Estate, 1996-98
    • Director of Vineyards and Winemaking, Rudd Estate, 1998-2002
    • Owner/Winemaker of Ramey Wine Cellars, 1996 to present

    Advice

    Learn wines

    To make great wine, you must know what great wine tastes like. Find or found a blind wine tasting group; work several harvests with wineries; get a BS or MS in Enology.

    Do what you love

    Above all—it’s a cliché, but: follow your passion. If you are true to your dream, and work really hard, it will come true in one form or another. Good luck! The world needs more good wine.

    Recommended Organizations

    Linn Slocum

  • Title:
    Owner
  • Company:
    Blue Slip Winery
  • Where:
    Knoxville, TN
  • Experience:
    9 years in the industry
  • Quick Look Bio

    I am not a certified wine maker. I am self taught. In 2003, I started making kit wine at home. Soon I grew into making wine from fresh fruit once I found a local source. Early on, I joined two wine related organizations, Tennessee Viticulture and Oenological Society (TVOS), made up of amateur winemakers and growers and Tennessee Farmers and Winegrower Alliance (TFWA) made up of growers. Networking with like-minded individuals fueled my interest in winemaking and prompted me to consider opening a winery.

    Blue Slip Winery began as a very small winery, producing 1,200 gallons the first year and slowly increasing production over the years to 20,000 gallons this year. Still, we are a small winery. Due to beginning small, and with the encouragement and collaborative support from friend and peer, Jeff Galyon, I was able to maintain a full-time day job while growing Blue Slip Winery. Today, we are a bonded wine cellar that purchases Tennessee grown fruit and processes it into wine. We also have a tasting bar and a retail shop.

    Although winemaking is my passion, as Blue Slip has grown I have spent most of my time minding the business end. Maintaining the record-keeping required by local, state and federal regulatory agencies is intensive in an alcohol-related business. Purchasing the winemaking ingredients and equipment or retail items and office supplies is another daily task. Recently, Blue Slip moved from our first location in Knoxville’s Old City into the Historical Southern Railway Station where we can expand our production and offer wine related events. The expansion and move have been quite an undertaking to manage, and therefore, my time has been spent on making the move happen.

    Advice

    Find a mentor

    My suggestion to someone wanting to be a winemaker is to look within your community to find a winemaker to talk to and expand your research from there. I read all I could and joined our statewide organizations, TVOS and TFWA, where I was able to network with others sharing my passion. Look at the available on-line courses if you don’t live near a university that offers winemaking classes.

    Learn the ropes

    Early on in my research, I offered my time for free and worked behind the scenes at a local winery. The experience was invaluable. Pre-harvest or harvest is a time when free labor is advantageous to wineries. I also picked grapes and helped out at a vineyard. The vineyard became Blue Slip’s largest grower. Find your passion and foster relationships that will support your mission.

    Winemaking Infographic