Is the winemaker a skilled technician or a wizard?
Winemakers are seen, in general, to work in small wineries being responsible for everything from the growing of vines to the distribution of the wines. In larger venues, the winemaker would be in charge of the technical aspect of making wine.
What is the role of the winemaker?
As the word says, winemaker is someone that makes wine. This name encompasses everyone, from the groups of friends and family who make wine at home - home winemaker - to the wine experts who travel the world offering expert advice -wine consultants- and to the highly specialized scientists -may be in part or in whole oenologists- working in large wineries.
Let’s consider the winemaker an expert at making wine, usually in charge of all the steps of the process at a small the winery. Winemakers plan, supervise and coordinate the production of wines from selected varieties of grapes. Those working in small estates cum winery may be responsible for the whole winemaking process, from the growing of the grapes to the bottling and marketing of the finished products.
In large wineries or industrial operations, winemakers are more in charge of the technical side of the business; they may specialize in one line of wines, only one wine, or just research and development of new wines. In such an environment, the barrier between winemaker and oenologist is not very clear.
The winemaker's job
The following tasks could appear in the job description of a winemaker:
- Planning along viticulturists, supervisors and marketing department of future planting programs and grape growing strategies.
- Coordination of tasks between vineyard and winery. Viticulturists manage planting programs and the cultivation and growing of grapes at the vineyard, the winemaker is in charge of the next step, and they follow a routine during the year.
- Perform the necessary laboratory tests to monitor the progress of grapes, check their quality and ensure it, and determine the right time for harvest.
- Supervise the crushing and destemming of grapes, the pressing, the settling and treating of grape juice, and the fermentation of must into wine.
- Determine the length of the maceration process. Guide the filtering of wine to remove remaining solids. Test the resulting wine to check quality and composition.
- Set the filtered wine in casks for storage and maturation and prepare plans for bottling wine once it has matured, taking care there is no loss of quality during this process.
- Oversee the staff involved in the production of wine, including their training. Organizing seminars and in service learning as required.
- Advise on maintenance of the vineyard and winery during the off-season.
- Agree with sales and marketing personnel the type, style and quality of the wines that to be produced so they will meet the demands of the market. Supervise local and export wine sales together with them.
- Give guided tours of the winery, conduct wine tasting sessions, explaining the various aspects of wine and wine making to visitors.
- Supplying the technical information for the winery records and helping to write wine descriptions and tasting notes for the winery catalogs. Supplying the information and helping to write features and other pieces about the wine making process.
The winemaker's skills
For this role half way between scientific and public relations specialist, any aspiring winemaker should have communication and interpersonal skills as good as any marketing professional; probably the interpersonal skills should be honed to the human resources management level. The winemaker also needs the ability to make accurate observations, analyze and solve problems associated with good scientists.
The former very valuable skills are not enough in winemaking world; a winemaker should also have a superb sense of taste and smell to distinguish every nuance in the wine. Here probably lies the distinction between a pure scientific approach to the production of wine and winemaking; a skilled technician can apply every modern technology trick in the manual to assure the quality of wine –though it’s impossible to create good wines without decent raw materials- but the winemaker can act on instinct, experience, and taste the difference.