Grape expectations

PATHFINDER

Grape expectations

 An oenologist should have  taste buds and nose which are keen and able.

The Indian wine market and the indigenous wine industry are still in a nascent stage. Though the revolution began 20 years ago, evolution happened only over the past seven or eight years. There are more than 70 small and big wineries in India. The wine market has grown by nearly 25 per cent in the last two to three years and is expected to grow at about 20 per cent on a very conservative basis in the next five years. Wine consumption is growing rapidly. To drive this growth, what is required is good quality wine, not mediocre wine in large quantities, and top quality professionals.

There is also great interest among wine makers from France, Italy, Australia, South Africa, America, and Chile to enter the Indian market.

People often think that a career in the wine industry is one long party. The reality is that it’s rewarding only through a lot of hard work.

When you go into the wine trade you are entering an agricultural or retail career; if you don’t fancy either of those things, it’s probably not for you. Not everyone is a wine drinker. But those who are can be fanatical about it. They love to discuss wine, sample wine, and tour wineries and vineyards, learning all they can about wines. People who are truly fascinated by wine, and who are intrigued not only by the taste but by the science of wine, often become oenologists.

Who is an oenologist?

Oenologists, also known as winemakers, are scientists who study oenology — the science of wine and winemaking. They often work with wineries as either researchers/developers or head winemakers. They are the people who make wine from grape juice and yeast. The yeast turns the sugar and water in the juice to alcohol and carbon dioxide. Oenologists, of course, could explain this natural process in much more scientific terms. Often armed with a university degree in oenology, these experts monitor the wine during each step of the process, from watching the grapes on the vine to monitoring the acid, sulphur dioxide and sugar levels in the fermenting juice to the presence of bacteria, oxygen, and other factors that could damage the final product — wine. 

Essential skills

An oenologist should have sharp senses — taste buds and nose which are keen and able. An oenologist tastes each final product, ensuring it is of high quality. A knowledge of chemistry and botany is important. He/ she should be thoughtful and analytical, have a good descriptive vocabulary and the ability to observe things accurately.

Excellent interpersonal and communication skills are a bonus. An oenologist would need to have a sense for management, as well as finances and advertising.

Talent acquisition

The roots of winemaking are in viticulture, which is an agricultural practice. Farming is a very humbling experience and it is mandatory for today’s winemaker to be part of viticulture activities. Theory cannot teach everything. One has to toil his/her way through the vineyards, work with the grapes and the farmers, and understand the genesis of the basic raw material for wines.

There is nothing that can supplement practical experience and the best model is to develop a mentor-tutor relationship, such that knowledge can be passed on from one generation to another with definite improvements and additions. This practical experience has to be bolstered by theoretical knowledge of how various compounds, chemicals and micro-organisms behave in different conditions, with a basic knowledge of life-sciences — microbiology, chemistry and physics.

A degree in science is essential. One can have a background in chemistry, biochemistry or food technology. It’s relatively easy for students from these fields to adapt to this industry. The basic skills for a winemaker include critical thinking and planning, apart from being vigilant to avoid any spoilage. Those who wish to take up winemaking as a career should be warned that it involves a lot of on-the-job learning, apart from some technical knowledge. Knowledge of viticulture — the science of study of vines and production of grapes — is also beneficial.

More sweat and grime than glamour

Being a winemaker is not as fancy as one would like  to believe. The work involves taking decisions and managing the process of winemaking at various stages, right from growing grapes to bottling the produce. It involves visits to vineyards for grape berry sampling, assessing maturity of grapes, and deciding harvest dates. A winemaker is required to carry out laboratory analyses to check parameters such as sugar levels, acidity and post-fermentation alcohol levels. He/she also needs to plan harvest activities and taste the grape juice at the wine press etc. In short, the job involves aligning viticulture needs with those of winemaking, as well as launching new brands.

The age of micro-specialisation

Oenologist, wine taster, viticulturist, vineyard manager, sommelier, or architect specialising in cellar and winery construction. These are some of the many exciting roles you can aspire to in this field.  With wine now being recognised as a social drink, there are various schools offering courses on wine tasting and appreciation.

A bottle of wine needs the nurturing of many hands — from the viticulturist to the vineyard manager; from the cellaret/ chemist to the winemaker; from the marketing to the sales team; from the sommelier to the wine consumer. All their efforts combine to create a complete wine experience. A growing industry, such as winemaking, needs multifaceted personalities, service providers and experts who can make the experience wholesome for the consumer.  This coordination is important as experts foresee a great deal of micro-specialisation which will crop up with regard to specific parameters such as bottling and packaging aesthetics.

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