Although anyone who makes wine is a winemaker, not every winemaker is of the same class. One could be a home or hobbyist winemaker; a consultant, a “flying winemaker,” who travels the globe on serial projects to assist other winemakers; or an oenologist with a doctorate degree working at a single large winery.
Part chemist, part magician, a winemaker in a small operation might have his or her hands on everything from vine planting to invoicing the distributor, while his colleagues at larger wineries would likely restrict their activities to directing only the most technical activities.
The Role of the Winemaker
To best understand the role of the winemaker, however, it might be best to think of the winemaker as an expert generalist who oversees all phases of production at a small commercial winery. Here, the winemaker will be very hands-on, responsible for the full spectrum of activities, from tending to the vines to bottling and, often, in promotional campaigns to spur sales.
Larger commercial enterprises might have multiple winemakers. Each might specialize in a particular technical aspect of the process, or in one class of wine, or even a single varietal, but follow the production of that wine through all its phases. At the very largest wineries, a winemaker might even be restricted to research and development, rather than commercial production, and thus become more of a pure scientist than one who actually makes a product for commercial gain.
The Winemaker’s Job Description
The following activities might be a featured in a job posting for a winemaker:
- Assist in planning the grape planting strategy as a member of the viticulture and marketing teams.
- Coordinate the activities of the vineyard and winery.
- Monitor grape production, testing as necessary to ensure fruit quality and determine the ideal harvest schedule.
- Supervise the crush, pressing, settling and all other phases of juice treatment and fermentation of the must.
- Supervise maceration and filtration.
- Test wines for quality and commercial potential.
- Cask the filtered wines.
- Oversee cask storage and maturation.
- Prepare bottling plans for each wine.
- Train and Supervise the entire production team production.
- Help maintain both winery and vineyard year round.
- Help strategize product lines.
- Guide winery tours, conduct tastings, write wine descriptions and meet with media.
The Winemaker’s Skill Set
Winemakers spend part of their day as scientists, and another portion in public relations. They need a marketing professional’s communication skills as well as a scientist’s focus, acumen, and analytical abilities, in addition to a process engineer’s problem solving skills.
Of course, the winemaker also needs highly specialized skills, such as an acute sense of taste and smell. After all, it can be but a nuance that makes the difference between a wine that is merely drinkable and wine worthy of an award.