Many home wine makers either start out wanting to go pro or decide to go that way soon after making their first few batches. After recording the last podcast with Holly Wells and John Garlich of BookCliff Vineyards Holly stuck around to share some great resources for those wanting to go down the path of professional winemaking.

Professional Winemaker Pumping WineHolly’s Wine Industry Resources

  1. UC Davis Viticulture & Enology Jobs (VENJobs)
  4. Walla Walla Enology & Viticulture Program
  5. Wine & Spirit Education Trust

“If you’re passion is there just follow it and it will take you great places” – Holly Wells

Things To Think About Before Going Pro

Becoming a professioal winemaker sounds inherently awesome when you first think about it. After all, who wouldn’t want to get paid to make wines?

The upside to professional winemaking could be amazing. Great wines, going to festivals, hosting tastings and club dinners. What’s not to like?

Aside from these amazing benefits and the fun you could have as a professional winemaker there are, however, a few things you should think about though before going too far down this rabbit hole. Here are a few truths you’ll have to grapple with:

  1. You’re no longer making wine for fun but to put food on the table.
  2. Experimenting with your wine all of the sudden becomes very risky.
  3. You may have to make wines that sell and not only wines you personally enjoy.
  4. Professional quality wines require attention to detail and professional grade equipment.

Let’s dig a little deeper into each of these.

The very definition of a “professional winemaker” is someone who gets paid to make wine. Their livelyhood is dependent producing good wine and being able to sell it. Making wine is one thing. Convincing people to shell out their hard earned pay for your wine is another challenge altogether.

Also consider that your table is not the only one you’re putting food on. Most wineries have employees whose income is dependent upon how well your wine is made and how well it sells. If either falls through they will be looking to you.

This brings us to the third thing to think about… you may have to make what sells and not necessarilly only what you like to make. Sure, you may have a following of customers that will love a good jalapeno peach chardonnay. But chances are that’s not what the majority of people walking into the tasting room are looking for. You may cater to whomever you please if it’s your winery, however, you do have to undstand the sales potential of different wines before you commit to making hundreds or thousands of gallons of it.

As John pointed out during the interview in episode 15, you may have to do a bit of studying or get some training to go from making wine at home to making wine at the scale required for small wineries. It’s also a good idea to brush up on the legal requirements regarding sulfites, sweetening, labeling, etc.

None of this is meant to scare or dissuade you from pursuing a career as a professional winemaker. It is, however, designed to make you think about the tougher questions surrounding an otherwise amazing profession. For some winemaking is all about experimentation and creativity. For others it’s all about the pursuit of perfection in a bottle. The first scenario is harder to pull off in a professional setting. The latter is exactly what will help a commercial winery stand out.

Do you want to go pro?

If so, please let me know in the comments below! I’m always looking to connect with others that share the same dream I have.

Photo by: Eric Hwang

  • Bill Black

    Hi Matt – interesting stuff but I think i’m in the wrong country and a bit too old now to go pro!
    One constructive comment for you – I have worked in broadcasting for about 40 years and noticed that your interview with John and Holly was recorded close to what sounded like an air conditioner and it made some of the interview hard to hear clearly. So a tip on the recording side of things is to make sure to set up as far away as possible from distracting sounds. As the interviewer you tend to filter these things out but the listener can’t do that so easily! Hope that is useful to you.

    • Hi Bill, thanks for the feedback on the audio! The air conditioner turned out to be quite a bit louder on the recording than I thought it would when I was sitting there. I’ll work on this for the next interview.

      So there’s not many grapes growing where you are? At least you can still make your own wine.

      Cheers Bill! -Matt

  • Kim Gill

    Hi Matt
    I have been dreaming of going pro for some time but it’s a scary thought. I have made many kit wines over the years and have started experimenting with blending. I recently blended a Raspberry Riesling with fresh ones straight from my garden. I have some tweaking to do but the first go around was pretty good (if I do say so myself).
    I live on a small inactive farm with plenty of land so I added a few vines to the property this spring and they are growing beautifully. Since I am located on the north shore of central Ohio I went with a few varieties hardy enough for our weather. The Cayuga was already a second year plant so I have a few bunches on them already but the Dornfelder & Lembergers are brand new so I don’t expect anything for another year or two.
    I have learned a lot from your web site and look forward to your next posting.

    • Hi Kim,

      That’s really exciting to hear that you’ve already got a place to grow grapes and that you’ve planted some. In Ohio do the vineyards there mostly grow hybrid grapes? I’ve heard it can be difficult for vitis vinifera varietals there.

      Please do stay in touch and let us know how things progress. I’m glad you’ve found the Academy content helpful. If there’s anything you’re looking for that you aren’t finding just let me know and I’ll see what I can do for you.

      Cheers! -Matt