Recently I received an email from a fellow viticulturist that I met several months ago who is just starting their career in the industry. They had the following question…
I am currently working on a small vineyard as the vineyard manager. As much as I love being able to do my own thing, I feel like I am missing out on having a mentor guide me through my first couple years managing a vineyard.
Since it is a small winery, I am also learning more about the winemaking process. This has been great for me and I hope to continue to learn more so I can become a better vineyard manager and hopefully make wine one day.
I remember you telling me to contact you if I had any questions about the industry, so I thought I would call that favor in. The advice I seek from you is how you moved from viticulture to more winemaking. The vineyard will always be my first love, but I became interested in viticulture because I love science and I love wine. Is it worth going back to school for another degree in order to make wine?
Any other tidbits of advice would be greatly appreciated.
I sat down and thought about how to respond, then sent this reply. At the end of it, I thought that it might be advice that other people just starting their careers in the industry might like to know so I asked the person’s permission to post their question and my answer here. I hope it helps if anyone is seeking advice to get into the wine industry.
I started at small wineries between 2,000-6,000 cases doing everything that was needed. As someone who works at a small winery I’m sure you understand that situation. That way I was able to apply what I was learning from my viticulture classes but also learned winemaking on the job. I took a few wine classes in college and learned the VERY basics but it wasn’t until I started learning on the job that I really got into wine and winemaking.
I made wine at home to continue my learning process. 9 bottles the first time and almost 2 cases the second time and by the third round I was getting pretty good at home winemaking in carboys! It is the most difficult and challenging to make wine in small batches so home winemaking is very important to understanding what can go wrong in the process. I highly recommend getting 2 – 5 gallon carboys and trying it out. Make sure you only fill one with juice though otherwise you can’t rack! Also a cheap hand mixer makes a great destemmer!
When I moved to California I went from a winery with a production of 6,000 cases to one with 15 million cases. Needless to say most of my small winery skills were not needed there but I learned a lot about blending, logistics, and planning and how important those things are to the entire process regardless of the size of winery you work for. I started as an Assistant Winemaker and moved up from there.
My best advice, which I myself sometimes have trouble following, is to always keep learning and never let yourself hold you back. It is easy sometimes to talk yourself out of an opportunity because you don’t think the timing is right or you are happy where you are. Always pursue every opportunity for growth. Some will be dead ends but if you don’t try you’ll never know. If you do try you’ll never have to ask “what if?”. I almost didn’t apply for this job [at Robert Mondavi Winery] because I was 5 months pregnant, it was almost harvest, and I was happy with the winery I was working for. I had to try though and if they had said no then I wouldn’t have had to look back and wonder. If I hadn’t applied at all, I wouldn’t be where I am now.