Myths of the Wine World #1: Winemakers Make Wine

forkliftAs with all myths, this one has an element of truth to it. In the Oxford Dictionary, the primary meaning of “to make” is “to form (something) by putting parts together or combining substances”. In the winery who actually puts the parts of the wine together? That all depends on the size of the winery.

In small production wineries under about 1500-2000 cases per year, if they’re charging less than $40 per bottle, it’s usually the winemaker and his/her family who actually handle the grapes, sorting them, putting them in the destemmer, moving them to the fermentation tanks, getting the barrels ready, crushing the grapes, racking off the juice, moving pallets by forklift, and so on. They’re actually making the wine by putting parts together. (Wineries that make expensive wine can afford to have a crew do all that “making” although lots of artisan winemakers enjoy being hands on.)

But as production exceeds that level, the physical labor is more than one or two people can do. They need to hire help. The winemaker has to pitch in when short-handed or during times of peak work load or emergencies. But routine tasks of “making” are done by hired help—temporary migrant workers, interns, underpaid newbies trying to get a foothold in the industry, and better paid production managers who divide their time between supervising and pitching in. And once production starts to creep over 5000 cases, which includes most of the wine made in the world, the winemaker does very little “making”.

What do “winemakers” do? They make most of  the decisions about what to do with the grapes or wine and when it should be done. They spend a lot of time checking their vineyards or testing in the lab. They are buried in spread sheets, planning, planning and more planning, and supervising the work crews. (not to mention schlepping the wine and trying to sell it after its made.)

In the modern winery, winemakers are really wine designers. They work hard but its mental labor and communications not the physical labor of making.

6 comments

  1. I would move the volume to around 10,000 cases for when a winemaker isn’t actively involved in making all the wine with his/her own hands. Of course they’ll have help, but 10,000 case productions are still quite small in the world of wine, and will most often have winemakers heavily involved in all aspects of the winemaking.

    1. Matt,
      Thanks for the comment. I debated about where to put that cut off. Much depends on business model and personal preferences. I’ll think about how to amend the post.

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