It is my impression that the general public, or perhaps more specifically the wine country enthusiast, believes that the winemaking profession exemplifies a career steeped in romance and leisure.
I have to admit that I once held that notion as well. Not too long ago I was finishing school; I had no experience or family ties concerning winemaking or grape growing, yet I started entertaining the idea of making wine as a profession.
Winemaking, I assumed, consisted primarily of drinking wines, taking a little time to create various blends, considering their pros, cons, overall merit and viability; while being sure to enjoy a nice glass of wine while the sun sets over the vineyards.
As it turns out, that perception of the industry does not exactly mirror reality. I found winemaking to be a mix of very specific skills and responsibilities. The winemaker feels the anxiety of a farmer hoping Mother Nature feels philanthropic in her gifts toward a good vintage. The winemaker is an artist who sits perplexed by his creation, trying to realize what could be done to make the work a bit more complete. Lastly, the winemaker must be a businessperson, addressing the harsh reality that wine must sell. Therefore he must feel as comfortable on a sales trip as in the cellar.
Probably the most well known hardship in winemaking is the harvest and crush. Quality in the vineyard is a prerequisite for quality wine, therefore balancing time between the vineyard and the winery becomes critical. Vital decisions have to be made in both locations, and all the decision making in that six week stretch of time impacts the quality of an entire vintage, and consequently, puts a great deal of pressure on the winemaking staff.
As soon as a harvest has concluded the entire production staff works year round in essential preparation for the next harvest. The preparation consists of moving wines from fermentation tanks to barrels, tending the barrels every several weeks to maintain quality, taking the wine out of barrel back to tank and so on until it reaches the bottling line.
In the end, the day to day trading of boots and hats for suits and ties has become, or perhaps always has been, part of the dynamic and challenging world of professional winemaking and, regardless of the perceived ideals of wine country living, we deal with the anxieties, the frustration, the hard physical work, and luck that epitomize the wine business as a whole. However, if we work hard and are lucky, we too can enjoy a nice glass of wine while the sun sets over the vineyards.