Dan Berger: Winemaker's life is hardly just 'fun'

&‘&‘Oh, you make wine?! How much fun is that?"

The speaker was a young woman who was awestruck to find out that one of the people at the next table made the wine served there.

In her delight, she may have missed the glazed look in the rolling eyes of the wine maker — as if to say, "If she only knew .<TH>.<TH>. "

As the 2011 harvest in Northern California begins, some people think winemakers' work is just starting. In reality, it has been going on since, well, roughly last year at this time.

For most winemakers, making wine is a thankless task that entails a virtual year of boring details requiring schooling in so many disciplines that a winemaker once told me, "Law school is a breeze compared to what I went through."

It starts shortly after the last grapes of a harvest are in. Next year begins almost immediately, even though the vines soon go dormant. Decisions must be made: When should we prune? Should we retrain the vines into another trellising system? What sort of vineyard issues do we have this year?

Viticultural decisions include pest management, irrigation, organic farming vs. other methods, and dozens more. Then there is how to deal with vines during the growing season, how to handle prior years' wines (fining, dealing with problem fermentations, bottling) as well as maintenance of buildings, equipment and vehicles.

Some winemakers are blessed enough to have a salaried position where they have no other duties — other than the travel required to attend winemaker dinners, sales trips, wholesalers' sales meetings, marketing meetings, attendance at charity events and a thousand more chores.

Other winemakers who own their own brands have it worse: sales trips that they have to fund, staffs they have to manage and pay, overhead costs and hundreds of details - such as dealing with tasting-room spit buckets, restroom maintenance and government compliance on dozens of issues that didn't exist a few years ago.

Perhaps the most footloose of all winemakers are the consultants who are hired to make wine for brand owners. They have fewer responsibilities — but also a lot lower income.

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