In the modern winery, the term “winemaker” is often misleading—“wine designer” might be more appropriate. In most wineries with an annual case production above about four or five thousand cases, the winemaker’s job is to determine what to do with the wine. It’s someone else who carries out these instructions. The actual “making” is performed by cellar workers who spend much of their time on the business end of a hose or in the seat of a forklift.
Most of the physical labor in a winery involves moving the wine from container to container and preparing containers for their next occupation.
Oliver Styles used the occasion of May Day (celebrated in many countries as International Worker’s Day) to call attention to the job cellar workers do.
They don’t get their own label, they don’t get their own tank named after them, they aren’t courted by the media, they aren’t asked to look after next year’s capex or barrel order; but without the work that they do, a winery could not function.
They usually don’t make much money, the work is often seasonal or part time, and it can sometimes be dangerous. But if they don’t do their jobs well, wine quality suffers. When winery equipment isn’t clean, critters grow; if the barrels or vats aren’t ready, the grapes or wine are sitting where they shouldn’t be.
We don’t think about it often, but wine quality absolutely depends on this work. One consequence of our focus on advanced technology and information is that we lose sight of the physical processes that actually make things happen. They are just a means to an end; grunt work. But just as we learn more about the world by walking through it rather than driving past it in a car or by preparing a meal rather than eating fast food, we know more about wine when we pay attention to the physical processes that make it.
When means and ends are no longer separated life in its fullness comes into view.
Cellar rats, vineyard workers—without them the world is a poorer place and they have a perspective on wine few of us can share.