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Winemaker: Best Job in the World?

Believe it or not, people really get paid to make wine. I know you thought they did it for free. Who wouldn’t? Ask any winemaker what he does, and he proudly exclaims he is “hands off” in the winery (nonintervention is the current fashionable term for this approach to winemaking that takes a degree in viticulture and enology to understand). They tell you, “I stay out of the way and let the grapes make the wine.” Winemaking must be the best job in the world.

Winemakers only “work” two months out of the year during harvest. Of course, they hire skilled laborers to pick the grapes, recruit volunteers to sort the grapes, and hire cellar rats to do all the cleaning and dirty work. They don’t need a wardrobe of clothes, opting for grungy denims and stained vests with sweat-soaked baseball hats that are the de rigueur dress. Heck, bathing is even optional. As rock music plays in the background they walk around the winery, ordering cellar hands to do punch downs and selecting lab tests which a hired enologist performs. Mainly they just smile and nod their heads. If a problem arises, there is always the cellar rats to blame.

Once the wines are barreled-down, winter arrives and the vines become dormant. No reason to spend any time in either the vineyards or winery. So its time to go on the road, hosting wine dinners where the food is extravagantly prepared and they never have to pick up the bill. The consumers who attend these dinners don’t want to offend the winemaker, so they eat and drink joyously, and the winemaker smiles and nods his head, reaping the benefits of generous praise.

Occasionally, winemakers are stuck hosting a group of consumers or winery wine club members. Winemakers go through the well-rehearsed winemaking song and dance that makes it sound like they are geniuses at what they can do with grapes. Of course, the winemaker knows the consumer will be overcome with cellar palate, and the wines will all taste exceptional. Everyone is intimidated and the winemaker gratefully accepts the compliments that gush from the inebriated guests. Everyone goes home happy with bottles in tow as the winemaker bids them goodbye with a smile and a nod.

Critics show up occasionally too, but winemakers are well-versed in dealing with them. Armed with the knowledge of which barrels are the best in the cellar, the winemaker will lead the unknowing critic on a merry tasting through the top wines the winery has to offer. This also is a time when the winemaker can show off his technical jargon and knowhow and impress the judge in front of him. Winemakers rehearse for years for this role. Of course, smiles and nods are an important part of this snow job.

As the first buds of spring appear on the vines, family snow skiing vacations are well in the past, and winemakers begin to think of the health of the vineyards. Although winemakers claim that “wine is made in the vineyard,” they actually never do anything such as pruning, leaf pulling or drive a tractor in a vineyard. Winemakers are good at kicking dirt and spitting seeds, after which they smile and nod, offering encouragement to the field workers.

The most adventurous winemakers will take on Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is the only grape that is wise to the winemaker’s shtick and likes to mess with their head. Pinot Noir loves to play mind games with winemakers, offering different flavors that vary from day to day, sulking at times, teasingly strutting remarkable sensuality at other times, but always forcing the winemaker to sweat a bit. Every little thing that is done in the winery can affect the delicate aromas and flavors of Pinot Noir so winemakers have learned to do nothing. When they are faced with a critical decision, they simply go home and sleep on it and let nature take its course. Winemakers happily boast of their decisions to do nothing. With Pinot Noir, winemakers often don’t add yeasts, don’t pump, don’t add coloring agents or acid, don’t fine and don’t filter. If they don’t do much, what exactly do they get paid for? Winemakers are trained masters at smiling and nodding.

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