An oenologist is a specialist in the science of wine-making, or oenology.
The creation of a finished wine from a harvested grape crop is the result of a scientific process called fermentation, in which yeast is added to the crushed fruit to begin a conversion mechanism where the fructose sugar turns into alcohol. The art and science of managing this delicate process is handled by the oenologist. There is often confusion between the correct term for the wine master: the terms vintner, sommelier and viticulturist are used interchangeably, but the jobs are actually very distinct; sommeliers deal with wine service; viticulturists manage the grape growing and harvest; a vintner can be anyone in the wine trade.
Oenology takes many years to master, and there are many levels of professional accreditation to go through before the candidate will become known for his or her skill within the industry. Today’s wine market is a competitive theatre with many brands competing for dominance, yet it has existed for almost 8000 years.
The job market for skilled oenologists in Britain is very limited, as the UK is not classed as a leading producer of good quality grape wines. Remuneration for oenologists will vary depending on the region, although aggregated salary searches on-line reveal a consistent pay range of between $37,022 (salarylist.com, equivalent to £22,505) and $54,000 (Salary Quest, equal to £32,826). Research seems to suggest this only focuses on university graduates with less than 2 years training who are placed with major producers. Due to the highly structured academic nature of the oenology profession, those with celebrated skills and experience will find that there is no upper salary cap as such, because they are very much in demand as their experience continues to grow.
- Understand the scientific principles behind wine production
- Have a learned understanding of how to improve wine and develop fine wines
- Develop an understanding of wine retail and market demand
- Create an understanding with the chief viticulturist (vineyard manager) to improve the finished product
- Work with marketing teams to be able to package and market the wine effectively
Oenology is a science-based vocation which places a great demand on entrants in terms of study and post-study learning and CPD (Continuous Professional Development). It is worth nothing that it is not necessary to enter the field from a science-based university programme; as the industry evolves, more and more people are equipping themselves with business skills necessary for wine makers to grow their business in terms of revenue expansion.
There is currently a great demand for people who have proven academic qualifications and post-education experience in marketing, business strategy, food and beverage administration and hospitality qualifications, as these are areas that the wine industry uses as channels for commercial growth. Spy Valley, a famous producer from New Zealand, for example, recently expanded its workforce by taking on sales professionals from a myriad of backgrounds. Just one year later, these candidates have become recognised professionals in the wine industry itself, and now give lectures to hospitality marketing groups and other producers.
- An appreciation of fine wines, table wines, and the different product areas which exist in the market
- An understanding of the wine harvesting and wine development processes
- A desire to travel the world and develop one’s own understanding of wine
- A thorough understanding of wine import and export legislation
- An understanding of food and beverage distribution and marketing
- An ability to handle a continuous process of learning and additional accreditation
This job involves a great deal of travel, both in pursuit of improving the product under the candidate’s care, and also in improving the knowledge base necessary in marketing the product. This means many conferences, table dinners, regional seminars and industry events in other countries, and often, other regions of the world. The candidate must also be prepared to engage in long, additional periods of study after successful placement. The candidate should have a love of the product, and work to grow the potential market for their own range of wine products; it demands dedication and energy.
Oenology is 50% academic learning and 50% practical experience; both candidate growth paths are essential, and very long-winded. Whilst it is possible to achieve placement with a wine producer on the strength of a Bachelor of Arts degree, many will demand a Masters on top of this. Smaller independent producers are sometimes more open to a broader range of applicants based on less demanding acceptance criteria. However, they will always demand continued learning, travel within the candidate’s own country, and familiarisation trips abroad; this will allow the candidate to commence a process of learning, which never really ends.
As with many academic careers, there exist many opportunities within the field of oenology to become a master within certain specialisations; it could be that a particular oenologist has worked at length with the Shiraz grape, or perhaps they become experts with soil types and managing the maturation process within a specific geographical region. Some go on to become professors, whilst others become members of various trade organisations, which work to grow the market development rate of wines for a certain regional market.
The global wine market is huge in size, and it is often the mass-produced wines with which the public becomes most acquainted. These are heavy producers who engage in significant channel marketing activities. The candidate may be familiar with brands such as Blossom Hill, Banrock Station, Angove, Spy Valley, Jacob’s Creek; these are “session” brands designed for volume consumption. The oenologist is most likely to find placement with smaller and more quality-orientated producers, and the variety of regions and product type defies concise description.
Also known as…
- Wine maker
- Wine master
- Food and beverage manager
- Wine retailer
What’s it really like?
Khun Burin Jobe Nakcharoen is a highly experienced and acclaimed oenologist living in Bangkok, Thailand, and he works hard as a member of various oenology trade associations to champion the growth of imported wines in the SE Asia region.
Khun Jobe began a serious involvement in oenology after joining the wines section of Italthai Industrial as Product Manager, which led to him becoming a certified sommelier after studying overseas.
Khun Jobe received accreditation in Viticulture & Oenology at Beringer, Napa Valley, California, and later with Antonin Rodet, in Burgundy. His professional role at the time involved supplying wines of distinction to The Oriental Hotel, Amari Group, The Four Seasons, The Sukhothai, Amanpuri, Royal Orchid Sheraton and Shangri-la hotels.
Jobe trained with many leading wine producers for a period covering 18 months; they included Georges Dubouef, who is the leader in Beaujolais wines, and Cordier, who was the negociant of many renowned Bordeaux Wines (Chateau Mouton Rothchild, Chateau Kirwan and Chateau Pichon Lounguevielle Comtess de Lalande).
He describes part of his journey into international oenology: “In the US, I was sent to Beringer, which was the leader of Napa Valley production near San Francisco. During this time, I travelled extensively on both sides of the Atlantic, gaining experience and contacts with the world of wines. Due to my range of experience within the French wine market, I maintain numerous contacts with the inner circle of French and European nobility, with whom I remain involved with the wine business.”
Jobe is currently Chairman of Vivaldi Seasons, a fast-growing Public Relations company, Executive Director of Vivaldi Beauty Supply (a Cosmetics Distribution firm) and General Manager for Vivaldi Industrial, a leading distributor for Goodyear tyres. In addition, he currently has membership of the French and Italian Chambers of Commerce in Thailand and is a Committee Member of the Thai-Chinese Cultural and Economy Association. In former roles, he has been Advisor to Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office, Advisor to the Office of the First Deputy Prime Minister and Advisor to the Interior Minister.
Khun Jobe completed his Postgraduate Dissertation in Economics at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, following the successful completion of his MBA in International Business at The University of Birmingham, UK.
He says, “It is possible to enter the field of oenology from a multitude of backgrounds, although the emphasis on schooling is widely accepted. It is only when you are working under the tutelage of an experienced master within the industry that you begin to develop the skills needed to be successful in this highly specialised field. I cannot stress enough the importance of working overseas with as broad a range of established wine makers as possible, as this is how you broaden your knowledge and understanding. From an introductory period spent in oenology, it is possible for an experienced candidate to consider a wide range of other placements within the industry. It is an exciting career, but one that demands constant study and reinvestment in one’s own voyage of accumulating knowledge.”
Although Jobe has expanded his company in directions away from oenology, he remains a prolific spokesperson for the industry, and a respected voice within the field of South East Asia food and beverages.