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Winemaker: Best Job in the World?

With harvest upon the Northern Hemisphere winegrowing regions of the world, it makes one pause and think that is a remarkable thought that people actually get paid to make wine. Ask any winemaker what he does, and he proudly exclaims he is “hands off” in the winery (nonintervention is the current fashionable term for this approach that takes a degree in enology to understand). They tell you, “I stay out of the way and let the grapes make the wine.” Winemaking must be the best job in the world.

Winemakers only work two months out of the year during harvest. Of course, they hire skilled laborers to pick the grapes, recruit volunteers to sort the grapes, and hire cellar rats to do all the cleaning and dirty work. As rock music plays in the background, they walk around the winery, ordering punch downs and selecting lab tests that an enologist performs. Mainly, they just smile and nod their heads. If a problem arises, there are always the cellar rats to blame.

Once the wines are barreled-down, winter arrives and the vines become dormant. No reason to spend any time in either the vineyards or winery. It’s time to go on the road, hosting wine dinners where the food is extravagantly prepared, and where they never have to pick up the bill. The consumers who attend these dinners don’t want to offend the winemaker, so they eat and drink joyously, and the winemaker smiles and nods his head, reaping the benefits of generous praise.

Occasionally, winemakers are stuck hosting a group of consumers or winery club members at the winery. Winemakers are well-trained to go through their winemaking song and dance that makes it sound like they are geniuses at what they can do with grapes. Everyone goes home happy with bottles in tow as the winemaker bids them goodbye with a smile and a nod.

Critics show up occasionally too, but winemakers are well-versed in dealing with them. Armed with the knowledge of which barrels are the best in the cellar, the winemaker will lead the critic on a merry tasting through the top wines he winery has to offer. This is also a time when the winemaker can show off his technical jargon and know how and impress the judge in front of him. Winemakers rehearse for years for this role. Of course, smiles and nods are an important part of this snow job.

As the first buds of spring appear on the vines, family snow skiing vacations are well in the past, and winemakers begin to think of the health of their vineyards. Although winemakers claim that “wine is made in the vineyard,” they actually never do anything in the vineyard such as pruning, leaf pulling or drive a tractor. Winemakers are good at kicking dirt and spitting seeds, all the time smiling and nodding, and offering encouragement to the field workers.

The most adventurous winemakers will take on Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is the only grape that is wise to the winemaker’s shtick and will mess with their head. Pinot Noir loves to play mind games with winemakers, offering different flavors  from day to day, sulking at times, teasingly strutting remarkable sensuality at other times, but always forcing the winemaker to sweat a bit. Every little thing that is done in the winery can affect the delicate aromas and flavors of Pinot Noir so winemakers have learned to do nothing. When they are faced with a critical decision, they simply go home and sleep on it and let nature take its course. Winemakers happily boast of their decisions to do nothing. If they don’t do much, and often decide to do nothing when confronted with a problem, what exactly to they get paid for? It’s clear, winemakers are trained experts at smiling and nodding.

6 responses to “Winemaker: Best Job in the World?”

  1. Ray Walker

    Rusty,
    thank you for your thoughts. I do, however, need to say that this depiction is far from accurate. I know this to espeially not be the case in Burgundy with a strong exception in the vineyard department. This is also the case in wineries in Oregon and California.

    I can admit that with Pinot noir that most if the credit is rightly given to the vineyard. Most of us do whatever we can to preserve the uniqueness of each lot of Pinot noir that we touch. To place a winemakers touch on these grapes and the resulting wines is largely thought by most of us something which somehow takes more from the wine rather than adding to it quality wise.

    On another level knowing winemakers (myself included) that are pushing themselves to the limit to work exceptionally hard to preserve the character of the grape at this very moment, the timing of this literary shrug of the shoulders is questionable.

  2. Rusty Gaffney - Prince of Pinot

    Ray

    Chill out – this was all in good fun – a joke! There is a little truth scattered here and there but it was definitely an exaggeration. I have the utmost respect for winemakers, but even they can see the humor in this I am sure. This has been confirmed by winemakers who I know well who have read it in my publication.

    “Man, when you lose your laugh you lose your footing.”..Ken Kesey

  3. Ray Walker

    Rusty, baby…believe me…I’m chill as they come. Just wanted to respond was all.

    How was your harvest by the way, purple hands still?

  4. Ray Walker

    With the haze of harvest well behind me I have re-read the post and find that I should not have responded how I did initially.

    Rusty, as a fan of tongue in cheek humor I can’t believe how slow I was in seeing more of the humor. Sorry about that.
    🙂

  5. Carter Thompson

    How is this a joke? This is nearly exactly what winemakers do, outside of the component of them being arm-chair scientists and getting suckered into the latest, and more expensive variation of yeast extract in a shiny new box with a brand new name like EnoTekFerm-3/4¶r^2 (For use in concrete eggs). “I was being very careful not to make Vee-Ayy this year and we kept the yeast low-stress because reduction reduces the amount of good wine”…

    The joke is how accurate this is…

  6. APRIL CLYMER- PARKE

    APRIL PARKE A.K.A VINTNERS TECH, CELLARITA (NOT CELLAR RAT) LOL
    I LOVE THIS CONVERSATION!!!!! LETS ALL BE HONEST… ANY SELF RESPECTING WINEMAKER WOULDN’T ADMIT TO THESE ALLEGATION’S in public.BUT YOU CAN BE SURE THAT IN THE MIRROR THEY TOO ARE SMILING. NOW I KNOW A FEW WINEMAKERS AND THEY BOTH HAVE SOFT HANDS …UNLIKE MY OWN. IT IS AMAZING THOUGH THAT A CELLAR RAT MAKES THE WINE BUT ISN’T THE WINEMAKER,…AND GETS NO CREDIT FOR DOING ALMOST ALL OF THE WORK . AT A CRAPPY RATE!
    NOW DON’T GET MAD ANYONE ,ITS ALL FOR HUMOR.
    CARMELA VINEYARDS OWN CELLARITA 😉

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