How to Become a Winemaker

By TACP Staff on August 08, 2019

A winemaker is a highly-specialized tactical decision maker with regards to the planting of grapes, their nurture and harvest. Once these steps have been successfully achieved, the winemaker expertly manages how and when the grapes are crushed, fermented, aged, blended and bottled.

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.

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Helpful Organizations & Resources for Winemakers

Additional Guides

If you are considering a career in the culinary industry you have a wide array of professional options and specialties to choose from. Check out these additional how-to-become guides to learn about related career options in the field.