What is a Winemaker? (Part 2)

By Thomas J. Payette, Winemaking Consultant

(Part 1 Ran in the January-February 2019 Issue)

Cellar Logistics Coordinator

As winemakers work through the year they are always looking three, four, even eight months ahead.  The cellar picture continues to change as each new harvest “deposit” will lend toward how and what one may want to do with each lot of wine.  Will a reserve be made this year?  With these decisions become handling logistics in the cellar.  Each white wine will either stay in stainless or go to barrel for further aging.  How long will this take place and what rate of extraction will take place this year?  Will the fruit intensity, from this harvest, be able to handle the aging?  Cellars may have up to three or more vintages in them.  Each lot of wine may need to be racked and adjusted from time to time.  Barrels and vessels must be topped on a timely basis.  Bottling schedules need to be planned and often during the harvest months; however, bottlings during harvest are never actually desired.  Often it becomes necessary to push a ready wine toward bottle at this time for the additional tank space.  Sales will affect our cellar operations and once again has us re-dipping into our toolbox to see if we can shift to make the company achieve its goals.  That may ultimately be what it is all about: A great wine that fits the company’s goals and objectives.

Master Blender

Ahh yes – The battles have been fought in the field and the cellar.  The sounds of screaming pumps and the noisy echo rhythm of the cellar are behind us for now.  We are in our haven most people visualize our lives being like.  We are winemakers and this is what people perceive to be daily experiences for us.  This is a great time to review our successes and failures for the wines.  Honestly and blindly criticizing our own products and assembling them to fit our goals and objectives.  This could take several days and we look forward to it; yet, deep down, we all know too long in this environment and we will need some physical stimulation.  We focus tightly on what we have in the cellar, review the chemistries and quantities of each lot making sample blends while looking at sales forecasts, if generated.  Can we make a reserve?  An upper level gangbusters wine?  Do we have a potential label or name for this wine?  The options go on.

Investigator (CSI)

Many of us find ourselves either very pleased with a result and wanting to duplicate it by finding areas we want to change to help get better results.  From this stance we need data.  This data will be collected all throughout our career to be referenced, hopefully, to retrieve the right component that made certain lots olifactoryly and sensorially successful.  Few winemakers are able to kick back in a chair and recall each vintage, what was done, what worked and what did not.  Others rely and can potentially be more helpful to future winemakers if they identify, in a cellar journal or equivalent, what has been successful or not.

People Person

People that like wine generally like people.  They just seem to go together.  The realities of the business also bring the challenges of production making this social beverage.  Not every day is perfect for each individual in this panacea liquid beverage making.  A winemaker may need to be a diplomat with a customer that just did not care for that type of wine.  The wine is not flawed it was just not what the customer expected.  One needs to smooth this perception in most cases to keep loyalty with that customer.  The winemaker on, the same day, may also have an issue with a supplier over a product ordered four months ago that will not be received on time due to a holiday delay or a delay because of waiting to fill a container before departing the country of origin.  Then one must decide to ship a portion by airfreight perhaps just to keep the production on time.  This makes winemakers negotiators using every ounce of communication and people skills possible.  It is, no different in a winery environment.  People skills are needed in ones every day lives no matter what they do.

Marketing Guru

People perceive our jobs as the ultimate job and our products as the ultimate product.  We go to work everyday and make a product they, and we, like to consume.  The packaging is nice, it has romance, it tastes wonderful, and it has ancient history plus mystic.  If we visibly give anyone any other idea than what they perceive we have dropped our products desirability backwards a notch or two.  We must take every chance we get to reinforce and gain ground that our products are just as romantic as they want them to be and that we are just as relaxed and easy going as they perceive our jobs to be.  We can’t expose some of our daily setbacks because after all – it really is a perfect job.  Perception is everything!  It is a panacea!


Winemakers are often, in warmer climates, seen in shorts and boots cleanly dressed in the morning kicking rocks in the vineyard; yet, potentially splattered by red wine lees by noon from cellar work. We work in the cool when it is hot outside.  Yes, our stained hands often look as though we have been changing oil for the past five years, but we wear these with bashful confidence or as renegade warriors depending on our setting.  It has been said that winemakers make nearly 2000 decisions before a wine is completely made and in the bottle.  Some of us in the trenches may say more than 2000 decisions are made with today’s advances.  We are apprentice sculptures of liquid art. There are few arts that are grown, seen, smelled, touched, tasted, absorbed and mentally alter us, as an elixir, in a positive sense.  Besides, it is also a product that is healthy if consumed in moderation.

Outside of farming and being a fermentation specialist, winemakers have a very keen source of marketing in them.  We can, will, and do sell a lifestyle by how we make our living.  From outsider’s eyes we live a dream.  From the inside view we live a dream.  Deep down everybody wants to be a winemaker.  You can see it when you speak with them.  Live your dream and become a winemaker.  Improve your dream by improving your skills.

The future

There was a time farmers looked out over their fields with hopes their children would be able to move on from the farm to grander ambitions.  Now we look over our fields in hopes our children will be able to live the lifestyle we are able to.  Then as now, if we work hard, our children will have that opportunity!

Short course:

  • Farmer of great raw materials
  • Sculpture and crafter of liquid art
  • Balance the wineglass with the lab results – finesse
  • Marketing a lifestyle
  • Promoter of Panacea

Dedicated to:  Jacques Recht and Jacques Boissenot both apprentice’s of Emily Peynaud.  My honor to them as I have been able to apprentice / mentor under them. 

Thank you!

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