WHO IS THE WINEMAKER?

“I graduated with a degree in oenology a few years back and now…”

“Ah, you’re probably a sommelier!”

Every time I talk about my degree, the conversation always ends like this. You study for three years, and then you’re considered a sommelier.

“Wait, that’s not a bad thing, is it?”

One can obtain the title of Sommelier after some courses taken with certain associations. To name some of the well-known ones, there’s the AIS (Italian Sommelier Association) and the FIS (Italian Sommelier Foundation). A degree in Viticulture and Oenology is different, in that it’s an entire degree.

“That sounds awesome! What do you guys do, like drink during all your exams?”

If you’re thinking about in an oenology degree rather than just going to the bar on Fridays, I’m terribly sorry- but it’s probably not going to turn out how you’d like.

“Okay, I won’t, but anyway- what does a winemaker do that’s so different from a sommelier?”

There we go, that’s the question of the day. Other than having a deep familiarity with the flavor palate, the work tends to depend on the company you support.

So, by now you know that wine comes from grapes, and the grapes grow on vines. The agriculture of the business keeps an eye on the grapes all year round to make sure they’re growing correctly. After which, when the grape is ripe, the decision is in the hands of the oenologist as far as when to pick it, and where in the cellar to keep the must.

“Where to put it should be the easy part, right? In a tank?”

Usually, yes, but which one?

As you can see, before being able to produce a bottle of wine, there are a series of decisions to be made that will heavily influence the final result. When the must is ready to ferment, even more decisions are made on top of that; like how to use selected or indigenous yeasts, how long to macerate, and even which method you’re choosing. For example, if you’re making a rosé, there are a number of different methods one can follow.

Now we see that the winemaker is the one who follows all the many phases of the wine transformation, production, and aging, from the beginning stages all the way up until commercial sale. But that’s not all. Wine is always a very quaffed product, and therefore is subjected to a very rigid legislation which has to be respected in order to maintain the health of the industry for us passionate people. Therefore, knowing all the rules for proper maintenance of wine makes the oenologist a fundamental figure, and particularly the one responsible for the legal knowledge surrounding how and where a wine can be sold.

Given the many things that an oenologist is responsible for, it’s understandable that they might be needed in addition to someone who runs the cellar. Because of this, it’s often common in bigger cellars to find multiple winemaker working as a team, rather than for one boss. On the other side of things, smaller cellars will often not have an internal oenologist at all, but will have an oenology consultant who will help them to make the tougher decisions about the wine and how to approach getting it on the market.

I hope it’s a little clearer now what oenologists do, but let me know if there’s a better way to clarify! Not everyone who graduates from degrees in Oenology and Viticulture turns into an oenologist. There are always the people who choose different paths, like working for companies that make products for cellars, or simply specializing in the commercial arena. In any case, winemaker help in different ways depending on the company. But the one thing I can say for sure is that if the oenologist puts passion into their job, the wine will be able to deliver passion as well.

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