If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to work at a winery, you’re not alone. Many a wine lover has considered taking a wine industry job to pursue their passion for the world’s greatest beverage. Myself included! In 2018, I left a nine-year career in marketing and public relations, moved to Paso Robles, and took a sales job in the tasting room at Adelaida Vineyards & Winery so I could learn about wine. And I loved every minute of it! So much so, in fact, that I decided to work as a harvest intern at Adelaida followed by a harvest down under.
Today, I’m combining my love for writing and marketing with my passion for wine. Though I’m working to get into the imports side of the wine industry. Plus, I will work at a winery again soon enough, as Marco and I are starting to plant our own vineyards in Sardinia!
Honestly, I can say from personal experience if you love wine, working at a winery offers the ultimate learning opportunity. I learned SO MUCH rather quickly while doing so, which is why I’m such a huge advocate of learning through experience.
If you have no previous experience in the wine industry, then working in a tasting room position or interning in the cellar for harvest are two fantastic ways to get your feet wet. Quite literally, in the case of the latter.
For those of you not ready to leave your current job, work at a winery tasting room could be a weekend gig. That way you’re gaining experience, which will help you get to your next opportunity. All while making sure it’s the direction you want to go.
Obviously, for both options you need to live in or near wine country. Additionally, if you have previous marketing, logistics, event planning, or sales experience, you could get work at a winery in these departments, too. However, I learned the most about how to sell, taste, and make wine through these two entry positions. So, here are the benefits and challenges of each to see if either could be a good fit for you.
Work at a Winery Tasting Room
If you love wine and you’re a people person, then working in a winery tasting room could be for you. I had so much fun as a tasting room associate, which is why I still hold the record for most wine club sign-ups in a day. It’s ten in case you were wondering ;).
Benefits of working in a tasting room:
- Tasting a lot of wine regularly will improve your wine tasting skills immensely.
- You improve at detecting faults in wine, as you must smell and taste every single bottle you open.
- You’ll learn more about your palate, which will help guide others in learning about their palate, likes, and dislikes.
- Talking with people from different places and walks of like will teach you how to connect with others, improve your communication skills, and boost your sales game. This experience really allowed me to grasp how wine unites us all. Once you get that, selling wine becomes second nature.
- You’ll make a lot of connections in the wine industry hosting other winemakers, distributors, etc. for tastings.
- Customers will ask you a ton of questions about wine, which will help you learn a ton.
- You also learn what consumers consider when buying wine. This knowledge is beneficial for any wine industry job you choose down the road.
Challenges of working in a tasting room:
- Long hours on your feet.
- If you don’t like talking to people, then this job isn’t for you. You will talk to a TON of people.
- Pay varies by winery. You’ll earn more at wineries in Napa Valley and Sonoma, for example, than in a small mom and pop winery in Paso Robles. Be sure to ask about commission structures on top of your hourly rate for both sales and wine club joins!
- More than likely you’ll be working on weekends.
Work at a Winery for Harvest
Benefits of working in the cellar for harvest:
- If you work at a small to medium sized winery, you’ll likely get the opportunity to do everything! Yeast inoculations, punch downs, pump overs, grape stomping, sorting grapes, filling and racking barrels, etc. The knowledge you obtain from working through each step of the winemaking process is priceless.
- Depending on the winery, you might get the chance to work in the lab measuring pH, brix, total acidity, etc. This will help you learn about different grape varieties, their growth cycle, how winemakers decide when to harvest, and so much more.
- You get the opportunity to taste grapes before they become wine, which helps you learn about different varieties, when they’re ripe, why certain winemaking decisions are made, etc.
- You also get a chance to taste the juice throughout fermentation and the winemaking process.
- Working with a winemaker, assistant winemaker, and cellar team gives you the chance to learn from others, ask questions, and ultimately learn what you want.
Challenges of working in the cellar for harvest:
- It’s hard, I’m not going to lie to you. Starting work early in the morning before the sun comes out. Physical labor for twelve hours a day. Sometimes working late nights. Sometimes working night shifts. Or working night shifts and switching to day shifts mid-harvest. Yeah, that was rough. But it’s DOABLE! And oh so worth it.
- If you work at a large winery, you will often get stuck doing the same job every single day. Like in Australia where I did 40 pump overs every single day. But an experience like this also has value.
- The pay can be good if you work a lot of overtime, or it can just be so-so. But don’t work harvest just for the money.
- You must clean a lot, every single day. This didn’t bother me at all, but I know it’s not how everyone would prefer to spend their time.
If you want to learn more about what it’s like to work at a winery as a harvest cellar hand, read these articles: