Opinion: Wanna Start a Winery? Get Ready to Sweat

Wine Enthusiast turns to industry insiders for their advice for people pursuing their vinous dreams.



A friend sent me a YouTube link to a “Make Your Own Video” skit that hilariously tackles the myth and romance of starting one’s own winery and/or becoming a winemaker.

Once I stopped laughing, I started to really think about what it takes to be happy and successful in those endeavors (other than a ton of money in the case of starting a winery, incredible patience and a work ethic of steel). As the video spoofs, it’s not often about glam and glitter, but a serious, grass-roots devotion to creating an agricultural product that speaks of the place in which it’s grown and made. That’s no easy feat.

I turned to some sage voices in the wine business to ask them what kind of advice they would impart to a person seriously interested in pursuing a life as a winery owner or a winemaker. Here’s what they said:

“Winemakers and winery owners must have extreme passion and a huge connection to the wine. It’s a tête-à-tête relationship with a living organism, and like a human, it evolves over time. Through this personal, in-depth relationship, you’ll also get to know yourself better. Approach it artistically and do not cling too much to concrete objectives.” -Jean-Charles Boisset, owner, Boisset Family Estates

“Winery ownership is not easy. Pleasurable sometimes – but not always. Glamorous, maybe – but not as a rule. Winery owners are pretty hard. They like to go camping and sleep on the ground. They like spinach. They love young Cabernet Sauvignon. There is always a little pain to go with the pleasure. “ –Mike Ratcliffe, owner Warwick Wine Estate

“Vino is mother nature’s precious gift but to produce a beautiful wine is only one step in the process. The challenge is to get the fruit of your labor onto the tables of wine lovers across the globe. In a world full of great wine and thousands of labels, the focus is not on the wine you want to make but one that consumers will enjoy. Next, how to bring it to market with great value? Making and sharing wine is romantic but achieving distribution, brand building, marketing, and investing time, resources and finances is decidedly less so. Worth the ride? Yes, by the glassful!” –Cristina Mariani-May, owner, Banfi Vintners and Castello Banfi

“My advice to an aspiring winemaker? Know what you want. Are you interested in Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir or Verdelho? To make volumes of good wine; or small amounts of great wine? Do you want to incorporate both the vineyard and the winery? Go work at a winery doing what you aspire to do. And work overseas, too. To an aspiring winery owner: First, know how to sell the wines you want to make. Find the best site to make them. Focus on vineyards that can produce them. Use your capital carefully. Or, buy a winery that does what you want, and manage it carefully. For most, winery success requires persistance.” -Zelma Long, pioneering California winemaker and winemaker for Vilafonté Winery

“You must really love and be passionate about what you do, otherwise when the hours get long you will start to hate the job. It definitely is not a 9-5 job (more of a 5 -9 and that is on a good day in the harvest). Be prepared to put in many extra hours, not only during the vintage (6-8 weeks of the year) or when one needs to blend and bottle a wine, but when marketing and promoting your wines throughout the rest of the year. The upside of the job: all of the above if you love wine and live and breathe it, as well as the ability to travel for and with your wines. We have met wonderful people and made many friends through the common bond of wine. Wine is beautiful! –Cathy Jordan, Owner, Jordan (Jardin) Wines

What in your mind is the right approach for the aspiring winemaker or winery owner? Is it more grit than glamour, or a romantic ride?

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