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Winemaker: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

A winemaker typically oversees the winemaking process from grape harvest through bottling, though some winemakers' duties extend further. A winemaker is responsible for the methods and techniques used during the crushing of grapes, fermentation and aging of wine. They can learn on-the-job or complete a relevant bachelor's degree program.

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Job Description for a Winemaker

A winemaker, also known as an enologist or vintner, oversees the entire production process of creating wine, including grape harvesting, crushing, fermentation, aging, blending and bottling. They combine scientific concepts with practical experience to alter a wine's chemical composition and make key decisions based on the levels of acid, sugar, sulfur and sulfite within a wine.

Winemakers also supervise the work of viticulturists, the grape growers who work for the winery or an independently owned vineyard. In the case of smaller wineries, a winemaker's responsibilities could begin with grape planting and extend through to the marketing and selling of the final product.

Duties of a Winemaker

Generally, a winemaker's duties begin with pinpointing the right time to harvest, based on the grapes' relative levels of moisture, sweetness and acidity. The job could require managing the harvesting and transportation processes.

After harvest, they supervise the crushing process that turns grapes into a mixture known as must. The winemaker adds the yeast, sulfites and sugar to the must before heating to trigger fermentation. The process involves the use of machinery, such as vats and pumps, to separate and ferment the wine before it's transferred into wood or steel barrels for aging. Additional duties might include general maintenance of the pumps, barrels and temperature control equipment.

At various stages of the process, the winemaker oversees the work of laboratory technicians who sample and analyze the wine to gauge its chemical composition. Based on these tests, a winemaker decides when to bottle the finished product.

Requirements to Become a Winemaker

There are no strict educational requirements for careers in wine production. A developed sense of smell and taste, as well as knowledge of grape varietals and growing regions, are essential. Aspiring winemakers can learn the various facets of the process on the job by starting as a cellar assistant. Completion of a bachelor's degree program in viticulture, enology or, in some cases, food science can provide an educational foundation necessary for work in a winery. Relevant courses include chemistry, biology, agricultural technology and sensory evaluation of wine.

Professional winemakers must be familiar with all production and marketing regulations in regions where their product is made and sold. The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau sets these regulations, including how labels must disclose a wine's alcohol and sulfite content, blends of grape varietals and regional origin. Additional regulations vary by state or international territory.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), enologists are a part of the food scientist and technologist field. In 2010, the BLS predicted 8% employment growth for these professionals through 2020. The BLS also reported an annual median salary of $58,070 for food scientists and technologists in 2012.

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