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So You Want to Be a Winemaker: Harvest Hopes

Sigh.  Let me get out ahead of the inevitable question and tell you that, no, you don’t really want to get into the wine business.  As the old adage goes, the fastest way to mint a million in the wine biz is to invest ten million.  It’s a rough industry.  An insider’s note might also be to expect to pick up the dinner check when dining with your favorite winemaker; with the exception of some high-profile consultants like Philippe Melka or Heidi Barrett, making magic out of grape juice pays very poorly.  (Winemakers still make more bank than wine writers though!)

Not convinced?  Well, your next step is to get yourself lined up with a harvest internship.  Cleaning out some fermentation tanks might help you get clarity on this career direction.  The good news is that everybody needs help at harvest, so it’s fairly easy to use your permanently purple fingers to pry open the door and get your muddy boots in the game.  If you’re serious about change, consider using that untapped vacation time to work harvest.  It’s a “try before you buy” approach to winemaking.

So what can you expect?  Expect to be dirty.  Expect to be exhausted.  Expect to be exhilarated.  Expect to celebrate, once all that fruit is in.  And frankly, expect to drink a lot of beer.  Harvest internships vary a lot.  Like any unpaid job, you should get clarity about expectations.  Ask where you’ll sleep – it won’t be very glamorous.  Ask about meals – will they feed you?  And do your due diligence – try to find a gig in an area where you already like the wines and varietals.  Some wineries do pay a modest amount of hourly compensation so if you need to make a bit of cash to keep you afloat, look for these opportunities.  Remember that working at a small, family-owned winery will be a very different experience than working with a big-volume producer so choose carefully based on what you want to learn.

Below are some resources to explore, perhaps while sitting at your desk this summer and dreaming about escaping to wine country.  Happy hunting!

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