Mother Nature's In Charge
"As my father likes to say, 'We are partners in this business together with Mother Nature; unfortunately, she is the senior partner.' Winegrowing is farming. Farming is inherently challenging and unpredictable. You can work your heart out in the vineyard but if at the end of the day the weather doesn't cooperate there is nothing you can do except make the best of the cards your dealt. Climate change is exacerbating what is already one of the most unpredictable variables for winegrowers around the world: the quality of the vintage."—Kareem Massoud, Paumanok Vineyards (New York)
Focus On Your Own Goals
"The hardest part of being a winemaker is staying focused on what you really want the wines to be and not getting distracted by winemaking trends or wine journalism trends. A good scientist is simultaneously open minded and skeptical; a good artist has a personal vision that isn’t easily swayed by trends. A good winemaker considers all of these, ready to embrace a new technology when it fits the winery’s style but not easily sucked in to something that doesn’t suit his goals. My biggest challenge over the years has been how to strike that balance. e only get 30 or 40 vintages to work with in this profession, and it’s important not to waste any of them on bad or trendy ideas."—Dave Paige, Adelsheim Vineyards (Oregon)
Taking the Leap
"There are a lot of gut calls. We aren't trying to make good wine, we are trying to make great wine. Intriguing wine. Often, this is wine that is made out on a limb—at that point where fear and excitement come together. We kick a lot of baby birds out of the nest...so far they all learned to fly."—Hardy Wallace, Dirty and Rowdy (California)
You Can't Control The Weather
"The hardest part is needing to stay flexible in terms of weather conditions. I can make my plans for the winemaking but when the weather turns to be bad in the middle of the harvest everything changes and I have to make other decisions. To pick the right grapes at the right time and to find the right people to help you is the challenge."—Heidi Schröck (Austria)
"The hardest part of being a winemaker is exercising patience. It has always been my approach to allow time and place to speak louder than any technique that we may use in the winery. Patience in winemaking gives the wine an opportunity to speak."—John Raytek, Ceritas (California)
Some Challenges are Fun!
"Often the really challenging parts which I would call "difficult" are also the most intellectually stimulating; a wine that won't finish fermenting, a finished white wine which is way too acidic, a section of the vineyard showing vigor decline or a clone of pinot noir that I've planted with great hopes and now I'm coming to the conclusion that it actually sucks! "What to do's" sometimes wake me in the middle of the night and I am sometimes forced to get up and jot down thoughts before I can relax and go back to sleep! Figuring out solutions to problems in the winery or vineyard is fun.
But honestly, the hardest part of being a winemaker has nothing to do with the winemaking per se: it is running the business, filling out federal and state forms, making sure that excise taxes are paid, inventory has been properly accounted for and reported, etc. Anyone who deals with alcoholic beverages has to deal with layers of bureaucracy, some of it holdovers from Prohibition, some of it due to more recent legislation. And it all takes time and that time takes away from the actual business at hand of growing grapes and making wine. When one is truly a small winery, as I am, it is not possible to hire a fleet of people to handle all of these tasks so one just figures out how to do it! The challenge of simply running a small business is probably the most surprising part of this whole endeavor."—John Paul, Cameron Winery (Oregon)
Not Always Easy for Women
"When I decided to be a winemaker, I knew that to be a woman in this craft would be difficult, so for this reason I had to study a lot and learn from the wisdom of people like my father. My roots, closely linked to viticulture, are what gave me this love for the land. I can say that I feel lucky because I enjoy my job on a daily basis."—Judit Llop, Morlanda (Spain)
Striking Out On My Own
"After my two-year internship, I decided to settle down and buy three hectares of Régnié. Obviously, it would have been easier for me
to follow in my father’s footsteps (Jean-Paul Thévenet) and establish myself in the same appellation as him! In buying these Régnié vines I was setting out in the dark, but given the quality of the terroir, I was entirely confident.
2007 was my first vintage, and a difficult one, but I managed ok! Then came 2008, also a difficult, rainy year, and then 2009, a magnificent vintage that propelled me forward…the wines had changed. This extremely sunny year had everything to do with it, but not exclusively! It was also the work I’d done during the previous three years that
was paying off. My devotion to renewing the vines through biodynamic agriculture was time consuming during those first three years...so I’d say this is what has been the most difficult challenge for me. But since then, everything has gone pretty well."—Charly Thévenet (France)
"Everyone has to wear many hats and juggle a lot of balls all at once! It's this diversity that makes my career very interesting but also very demanding. When you pair that alongside of trying to be a great husband and father it becomes my hardest thing to face as a winemaker. Don't feel too sorry for any of us though. Life is good when you find that balance!"—Corey Braunel, Dusted Valley (Washington)
It's Slow Going...
"The hardest part about being a winemaker is the fact that the whole process just moves so slowly. You have to have a great amount of patience and a vision for the very long term. We work with the seasons and with nature and so each vintage and each wine takes hundreds of days to farm, to raise and then finally to sell. I calculated that each one of my wines represents about 1,000 days of my life from birth to bottle to the marketplace. We are totally at the mercy of the weather and the season and learning to cope and deal with those changes has definitely been the greatest challenge in my career. But it is what also makes this job so much fun and so fresh every year. We never know what the new year will bring."—Josh Bergstrom, Bergstrom Wines (Oregon)
Avoiding Mishaps on Bottling Day
"The hardest part about winemaking is probably bottling. There is very small margin for error and a lot can go wrong very quickly. Choosing when to pick grapes during harvest is a big challenge but I love it so I don’t consider it a pain at all. Bottling is another story..."—Gavin Chanin, Price Chanin Vineyards & Chanin Wine Company (California)
The Good Outweighs the Bad
"With passion, the more difficult moments are also softer. I will thus not speak about painful moments but rather about magic moments: a morning during grape harvest and the fog on the vineyard, the discovery of a new vintage, the tasting of the base wines which will create future Champagne, the experiments which we make in the vines and the cellars like our Blanc de Rose."—Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy, Champagne R. Geoffroy (France)
"During harvest we work long into the night for weeks on end. Combine that with events, appearances, and business travel, and it can take over your life. While the benefits to being in this line of work are undeniable, it is often difficult to say no. Balance in life is necessary to keep the creative side of our business thriving."—Lynn Penner-Ash, Penner-Ash Wine Cellars (Oregon)
Not Just Fermentation—Sales, Too!
"For me, this job is fairly holistic and requires understanding all the pieces. It is not just the understanding of winemaking technique and viticultural magic but also requires an understanding of interpersonal relationships, finance, marketing, and of course, sales. We all, including myself, like to think of the winemaker as standing at the edge of his vat of fermenting grapes, immersed in creating his special art, but the job has a much, much greater scope than that simple though romantic image. The biggest challenges have to do with engaging with the consumers in such a way that they will love your wines and be loyal to your winery for many years."—Joel Peterson, Ravenswood Winery (California)
Worrying and Learning
"The sleepless nights if you worry about wines in your cellar. Even with many years of wine-making experience, there is always something new to be learned. And the growing season here in the Finger Lakes is always good for surprises."—Johannes Reinhardt, Anthony Road (New York)
Bottling and Selling
"Making wine is lots of hard work but extremely enjoyable. Selling it is the hardest thing. The economics of the wine industry make it essential for the winemaker to be on the road at least part of the year, showing wines and selling them. You put all this effort into making something you think is great, and then you have to sweat to actually get people to realize that you have it, have them taste it, and to buy it. Salespeople naturally gravitate to selling what's easiest and most profitable. Getting people to understand and sell artisan wines is quite hard. Also just the bottling process is the worst part of winemaking—after all that work, you can ruin a wine in a day if the bottling process goes awry."—Michael Dashe, Dashe Cellars (California)
"The climate in Virginia is notoriously fickle, so less than perfect harvest conditions are a challenge you learn to deal with. What worked one year is not necessarily going to work the next. In 2010 the wine basically made itself. In 2011, we had back to back tropical storms during harvest so we learned how to get creative in the winery. You get one chance to get it right, get it in the bottle, and then you're onto the next year."—Rachel Stinson, Stinson Vineyards (Virginia)
Balance and Evolving Communication
"[The hardest part is] Balancing the artistic/creative and business elements so at the end of the day it all pencils out. What challenges have surprised me over the years? The rapid evolution of communicating with our customers, from “wine club”, to mailing list, to social media. This is a very dynamic area that you have to keep up with to ensure you’re reaching people in the best way to tell your story and present your wines."—Hugh Chappelle, Quivira Vineyards (California)