When you hear of employees with an abundance of passion and creativity, you probably think of jobs related to the arts. So, you may be surprised to find that there are scores of people in the wine industry who live and breathe their jobs.Despite the fact that the wine business is a tough racket, workers in the industry love what they do, from the owner and operator of the vineyard all the way down to the people in charge of its upkeep. It's a labor of love for most people, something they do for a single reason -- their passion for the final product. Here are 10 of the coolest jobs in the wine business.
Let's start with what many people might consider the best job in the wine industry: the vintner or winemaker, the very person most singly responsible for creating the bottles of fermented grapes for the rest of us to enjoy. A vintner is also one of the few jobs in the wine industry that can be lucrative. There are many different paths: You can work full-time for a single vineyard, or you can work as a free agent and take seasonal jobs to make specific wines for a different vineyards. The vintner oversees every aspect of the final product, and it's something that typically requires serious schooling or a lot of hands-on experience.
Wine lovers with an entrepreneurial spirit may find their calling is opening their own wine shop. In this case, you can be independent and do your own thing, or buy into an existing wine store chain. If you own a wine shop, it's your call on what kinds of wines you carry and how you display them, which, of course, requires lots of personal research. A typical wine shop also carries wine accessories, and some even incorporate a small gourmet shop with a selection of cheeses, breads and olive oils. Most shops also offer tastings and classes on a regular basis to introduce people to wine, and more importantly, to your business.
There's a saying in the wine business that if you want to lose money, then you should buy a vineyard and start making wine. Investing in a vineyard is incredibly expensive and that's just to purchase the land itself. Wine making equipment is extremely high-tech and very expensive -- a top-of-the-line bottler and labeler may run in the million dollar range. Then, add the cost of staffing the vineyard and making and marketing the wine, and you're in for a lot of money before your first vintage ever hits the shelves. But, as with most wine jobs, people who start their own label do it because they love the product first and foremost.
If you're a wine enthusiast, you've probably spent some time in wine country, whether in California's Napa Valley or any of the other wine growing regions around the world. Each vineyard has its own tasting room and each room has a staff of hosts. Don't confuse a tasting room host with a bartender, though. Hosts and pourers are hired because they know a lot about wine. And it's their job to sell the wine lover on the particular line of wines from the vineyard they work for. A personable and experienced wine host will walk you through the wine flight, explain to you what you're drinking, and ideally, send you home with a case or two of the good stuff.
Once the wine leaves the vineyard, it can either hit the stores or go through a distributor to a restaurant, or both. Top restaurants that put a premium on great wine typically employ a sommelier. In the simplest terms, the sommelier is the wine expert in charge of pairing wines with foods on the menu and talking to diners about the wines, before, during and after dinner. They're also in charge of quality control and training the wait staff how to present and pour. Known for an endless eye for detail, a sommelier can round out your meal with the perfect pairing while scaring the pants off your waiter because of his or her typically demanding nature.
If you love being outdoors and working hard, then you might be interested in landing a job at a vineyard. It's tough work and largely unsung, but some folks love being tied to the Earth and getting their hands dirty. In the United States, many vineyard workers are immigrants who are glad to have the work, but you'll also find plenty of young Americans out in the fields who want to learn the business from the bottom up. If you're interested in becoming a vintner one day but don't want to go to college to do it, starting out in the vineyard is an option you may want to consider.
Also known as a cellar master, most wineries employ these people to look after the wine once it's been made. There's a lot more to storing and aging wine than just putting it in a barrel. A cellar manager has to be extremely precise with the conditions in which the wine is stored and take regular, daily tastings of each batch to make sure it's where it should be. The cellar manager works closely with the vintner and typically has a few employees under her, called "cellar rats." Starting out as a rat is a great way to work your way up to manager.
If you love wine and you like to spread the word about it, then becoming a wine country tour guide may be a nice option for you. One way is to get your chauffeur's license and drive groups around to different wineries for tastings. Or, you can work for a particular winery that offers tours on site for wine enthusiasts. If you drive people around wine country, you stand the chance to make commissions from wineries for bringing buyers their way. A good tour guide will be well-versed in the wines in the region as well as the wine making process itself.
Wine clubs have become increasingly popular over the years in the United States. After joining a club, members receive wine selections in the mail over the course of a year. Wineries themselves have wine clubs that are managed onsite, but you can also branch out and start your own online wine club that draws selections from a range of wineries, typically from a particular region. It's a lot of work -- picking out the wines, writing newsletters, and making sure the packing and shipping all runs on time. But managing your own club also has a lot of rewards, not the least of which is all of the free wine samples you'll get along the way.
Most great wine is aged in wooden barrels, and these barrels have to come from somewhere. A cooper is the person that actually constructs these barrels. In order to become a cooper, you need to be a craftsman with some carpentry skills, an eye for detail and in-depth knowledge about wood.
French oak is the most popular kind of wood and also the most expensive to use. Wine barrels are made from strips of this wood and joined tightly together before being bound by metal hoops, with a single, corked hole in the center of the barrel. They're usually made in Europe, although there are cooperages in California as well.
The 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident caused a measurable but harmless increase in the levels of a radioactive isotope in a few bottles of California wine.
- "15 Cool, Sexy Jobs in the Wine Business." seriousaboutwine.com. (June 30, 2011). http://www.seriousaboutwine.co.za/?p=586
- "Cooperage - Making Of A Wine Barrel." crafty-owl.com. (June 30, 2011). http://www.crafty-owl.com/cooperage.htm
- "Sommelier." chiff.com. (June 30, 2011). http://www.chiff.com/wine/sommelier.htm
- "Wine Jobs." winebusiness.com. (June 30, 2011). http://www.winebusiness.com/classifieds/winejobs/
- "Winemaking Jobs." jobmonkey.com. (June 30, 2011). http://www.jobmonkey.com/winejobs/wine-jobs.html