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Working the Vineyard

The most fun I’ve ever had in the last 20 years working in the wine trade has definitely been working vintages. I’ve been fortunate to do a few of them in Bordeaux and Australia, and one in Napa and the Okanagan.

It’s certainly the best way to learn about wine, and I’ve always been perplexed by so-called wine experts that have never done this. You can’t learn everything from a book.

My advice would be to pick a country or a winery where they speak your language. You won’t learn much if you can’t understand a word they’re saying. Next, give yourself a minimum of 3-4 weeks so you can see a good chunk of the process and keep in mind that harvest in the southern hemisphere is in our Spring.

To land a job, simply email dozens of producers in the targeted area offering your services. The directories of all the wineries can usually be found on the national trade associations website, such as Wines of Chile.

Wineries often take on additional “cellar rats” at harvest, and if you can show you are keen and reliable then sooner or later someone will take you on. If you offer to work for free then the replies come back much faster… Some of the places I worked at gave you accommodation, meals and a small payment.

The critical thing is to find a winery that will let you move from one task to another, so you get to work in the vineyard sampling grapes, then working the crusher/destemmer/presses, managing ferments, working in the barrel cellar and the lab etc.. That way you’ll maximize your learning experience. Don’t get stuck picking grapes for a month.

Your best bet might be to make friends with a visiting winemaker to a local wine festival. When you’re asking for a job in person you’ll have more chance of success, especially if you smile pretty.