This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Winemakers make wine from grapes and other fruit.
Cellar hands and assistant winemakers usually earn
$39K to $70K per year
Winemakers usually earn
$115K-$175K per year
Source: New Zealand Wine, 2017.
Pay for winemakers varies depending on seniority, years of experience, the size of the winery and its region, and tasks performed.
- Unqualified cellar hands usually earn $39,000 a year.
- Qualified cellar hands usually earn $45,000.
- Assistant winemakers usually earn $70,000.
- Winemakers usually earn $115,000.
- Chief winemakers, who manage teams of winemakers, can earn up to $175,000 a year.
Winemakers who buy into wineries and vineyards can increase their income.
Source: New Zealand Wine, 2017.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Winemakers may do some or all of the following:
- discuss fruit quality and quantity with grape growers (viticulturists) throughout the growing season
- develop new wine styles and improve the wine quality
- process grapes to make wine
- control fermentation and adjust wines as needed
- ensure legal standards and specifications are met, such as alcohol level requirements in New Zealand or the country of export
- filter, bottle and package the wine for sale
- maintain winemaking equipment and machinery
- manage winery workers
- use software to track grape health and growth
- record procedures, blends and inventories
- market and sell wine.
Some winemakers may also carry out the tasks of grape growers if working for a small winery.
Skills and knowledge
Winemakers need to have knowledge of:
- different wine styles and varieties
- winery and vineyard technology and tracking software
- wine-related science, such as chemistry, biology and microbiology, and laboratory skills
- hygiene and sterilisation methods
- engineering and flow process technology (pumps and hoses).
Winemakers who do work in the vineyard may need to know how to operate vehicles such as tractors or forklifts. Knowledge of first aid and safety may also be helpful.
- usually work a 40-hour week, but during harvest will often work up to 100 hours a week
- mostly work in a winery, winery laboratory, office or factory
- may also work outdoors in vineyards, which may be hot and dry in spring and summer.
What's the job really like?
Stuart Marfell has a past steeped in wine – growing up next to a winery in Marlborough and working in their vineyard during his school holidays. So it seems only natural that he's ended up becoming a winemaker there.
The work changes with the seasons
"It’s great because it’s varied – the work changes with the seasons. During the season where the fruit gets in and you actually make the wine, you’re using your senses – doing lots of tasting, smelling, trying different fruit or doing hands-on winemaking.
“But at other times, you’d be doing something completely different: like financial reporting, sales and marketing, or planning the harvesting.
“There are crucial decisions on when to get the fruit in, because the weather plays a part as well. You also have to get the people ready to harvest the grapes.”
After the busy times there are the rewards
"It’s fantastic that at the end of each vintage cycle you end up with something tangible – a bottle of wine that you can hold up and say, 'This is the result of all the hard work I’ve been doing for the last 12 months' – the recognition is great too and we’ve got quite a few national and international awards.”
- Seeing the finished bottles of wine.
- Being recognised and receiving awards.
- During winemaking time you can work very long days.
- It’s a very labour-intensive job.
Jordan finds out about what it's like to be a winemaker – 6.09 mins. (Video courtesy of Horticulture Industry Training Organisation)
Clinton: Viticulture is the science, production and study of grapes. So Jordon has travelled 30km from her home in Picton to Blenheim, the heart of the Marlborough winegrowing district, where she’ll be spending a couple of days at the Allan Scott Vineyard.
Jordan: My name is Jordan.
Ra: Gidday Jordan, I’m Ra Hebberd, I’m the vineyard manager here at Allan Scott wines. I understand you’re interested in a career in viticulture?
Jordan: Yeah, I’m looking into it.
Ra: Excellent, should we go for a drive and have a look around?
Jordan: Yeah, that would be cool.
Jordan: So Ra, can you tell us about the size of the vineyard here?
Ra: The Allan Scott’s, they have approximately 80ha.
Jordan: The grapes all seem to be planted in rows, is that for any particular reason, do they go a certain way?
Ra: Yeah they’re north-south facing, purely for the sun.
Jordan: The vineyard is quite large, how many people do you have working here to actually run it?
Ra: There’s six permanent staff that actually look after it, and we use contractors as well.
Ra: How about we have a look some vines.
Jordan: Yep, that would be cool.
Ra: What we’ve got here is a root stock, and we’ve got the plant. They’re grafted together and the outcome is what we see here today.
Jordan: So why is it a different rootstock to the rest of the plant?
Ra: It’s Phylloxera resistant. Now Phylloxera is a bug and it gets in amongst the roots and just eats the root out basically. Over time it will kill the plant.
Ra: The main pest we have here is birds, and here’s a good example of bird-peck – you can just see where it has burst the berry there.
Jordan: How do you cure that, or stop it from happening in the first place?
Ra: Basically you’ve got to get rid of the birds. We net most of ours, and a lot of people use bangers, they just fire off like a shotgun sound.
Jordan: Josh, you’re the winemaker here, so you make the decision on when it’s time to harvest the grapes – what do you base that decision on?
Josh: It’s on a few things, it’s a collective decision between the winery and the vineyard, but mainly it’s just about the taste of the grapes.
Jordan: So are these grapes over here, are they ready to be harvested yet?
Josh: We can have a try…
Josh: …yep, they’re good to go.
Clinton: Except for the really high quality grapes, hand picking is a thing of the past, nowadays harvesting is highly mechanised and is done very quickly indeed. After the grape harvest in late summer the next big job is to prune the vines and it has to be done by hand. Its time for Jordon to start work.
Ra: Right Jordan, here we’ve got our plant and what we try to do is clear space in the head. If you imagine a shape of a vase, that’s what we’re going to try and prune to.
Ra: For a start, we always take out the old wood.
Ra: You do this here…
Ra: We always leave three cane, in case you break one when you’re wrapping down.
Ra: …wrap that down again…
Ra: You want to make it reasonably tight, but not so tight that come next season you can’t strip it out. And that’s how you prune a plant. The next one’s yours!
Ra: Yep, that one could come out.
Ra: That one there would be a good one to leave.
Ra: Yep, take that one off.
Jordan: It’s finished!
Ra: Nuber one pruner!
Clinton: The main way that the vines are kept healthy is by spraying to keep the bugs off the plants and the weeds down amongst the roots. A regular spray regime is a major part of vine management. Time for Jordon to have a driving lesson.
Ra: And away we go!
Ra: And I’ll tell you when to turn…you’re doing alright!
Jordan: Where do I go from here?
Ra: Go straight out.
Ra: Piece of cake! Try to stay in the middle as much as you can.
Ra: So what did you think?
Jordan: It was actually pretty cool. I liked that!
Clinton: Phillip Heather is an apprentice at the Allan Scott vineyard and today is a big day as he is presented with his National Certificate, Level 4 in Viticulture.
Jordan: Why be qualified, why not just carry on with what you’re doing without the qualifications?
Phillip: Recognition. If I every wanted to go for another job then I could just show them the qualifications and I’d be more likely to get another job.
Duncan: A vineyard such as Allan Scott’s here, are millions of dollars worth of investment and good employers are going to look after those investments by insuring they have got trained staff.
Clinton: As Jordon has seen, the work of a viticulturist is varied throughout the year and includes pruning, spraying, controlling pests, maintaining machinery, irrigation pumps, filters, irrigation lines and wires. Done right the harvest will reap good grapes to make great New Zealand wines. So is this the job for Jordon?
Jordan: I actually reckon this job and career has got a lot going for it because it’s outdoors and because it’s such a big industry now, you don’t really know what’s going on until you have a good look on the inside and see how it really works.
Ra: If she wants to take it on, yeah she’d go pretty well. We could have her on board actually and do a bit of work!
Clinton: There is a National Certificate in Horticulture with a specialised Viticulture strand. Trainees can start with National certificate in Horticulture Level 2, and work their way through to level 4 advanced. As the studies progress so trainees do more work on the viticulture area. There is a big demand for trained viticulturists in New Zealand’s growing wine industry. With hundreds of vineyards all over New Zealand career progression can be excellent and the qualifications gained are recognised all over the world.
To become a winemaker you need to have:
- a degree, diploma or certificate in viticulture or winemaking, or a Bachelor of Science
- some years' experience working as a cellar hand or assistant winemaker.
There are no set entry requirements to become a cellar hand or assistant winemaker, but many employers prefer some wine industry experience. Some qualifications can be completed by correspondence while working on a vineyard.
- Eastern Institute of Techonology website - information about the Bachelor of Viticulture &/or Bachelor of Wine Science Concurrent
- Lincoln University website - information about the Bachelor of Viticulture and Oenology
- Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology website - information about the New Zealand Certificate in Horticulture Production (Fruit Production) - Viticulture
- Otago Polytechnic website - information about the Diploma in Viticulture
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful school subjects include maths, chemistry, physics and processing technologies.
Winemakers need to:
- have good communication skills
- have an eye for detail
- be able to problem solve and work under pressure
- be practical and creative
- be skilled at business, management and marketing.
It’s the kind of job where you can be very emotionally involved because the wine is something you love, and you want to make it the best you can, which you can’t do all the time.
Useful experience for winemakers includes:
- vineyard experience
- laboratory experience in breweries or dairy factories
- experience in wine sales, tasting or serving.
Winemakers need an above average sense of taste and smell.
Find out more about training
- New Zealand Wine
- (09) 303 3527 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.nzwine.com
What are the chances of getting a job?
Chances better in larger wine regions
Most wineries are looking for experienced winemakers, so it can be hard to get an entry level position, or to progress from an assistant winemaker role. However, chances for entry level roles are better in larger wine regions such as Marlborough and Hawke's Bay.
Long-term outlook for winemakers good
New Zealand wine has an excellent reputation in the international market. The value of exports rose to $1.66 billion in 2017 and wine is now New Zealand's fifth largest export by value. The USA and China are buying more New Zealand wine and this means that more winemakers will be needed in the long term. Around 7500 people are currently employed in the winemaking industry in New Zealand.
Winemaker appears on Immigration New Zealand's immediate skill shortage list. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled winemakers from overseas to work in New Zealand.
Winemakers work for wineries or wine companies
Winemakers generally work for wineries or wine companies. They can work for small wineries, which make up 80% of New Zealand's total wine producers, or for large corporate producers.
- Gregan, P, chief executive officer, New Zealand Wine, Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission interview, December 2017.
- New Zealand Wine website, 'Annual Report 2017 New Zealand Wine Growers', accessed December 2017, (www.nzwine.com).
- Stuff website, 'NZ wine exports hit record high driven by strong US sales', August 2017, (www.stuff.co.nz).
Progression and specialisations
Winemakers may progress to set up their own vineyard, or move into chief winemaker management roles.
Last updated 15 December 2017