The different wine professions
France is one of the most famous countries in the world for its wine production. Its great vintages, its castles and their century-old histories all contribute to France’s worldwide reputation. Viticulture holds an important place within French culture and its international influence. Thanks to its appeal, French wine has become the 2nd most exported product in France. The sector is one of the country’s economic pillar, its annual turnover exceeding €20 billion and employing nearly 500,000 people. Employees work in vineyards, in cellars but also in all the sector’s multiple branches. In this article, we will explore in more detail the wine sector’s large array of professions.
In order to specifically understand the wine industry’s different professions, it is important to focus upon the different types of structures which produce it: wine estates, wine merchants and cooperatives.
The three winemaking structures
Firstly, the best-known structure is the wine estate. A wine estate exploits vines, being either an owner or tenant. According to the surface which is exploited, a wine estate has several employees specialized in various vineyard works, in cellars or in commercial functions. The entire estate’s staff is supervised by the owner, often the winemaker or by a manager. In small estates, the winegrower holds multiple roles: he supervises the estate’s overall activities and is legally responsible for it. In 2019, France counted over 85,000 wineries.
The négociant (wine merchants) or house of négociants, is a structure whose purpose is to commercialize the wine. Their primary role is to blend different wines from several wineries and sell them through their large customer networks. Wine merchants often hold larger commercial strength and remain better-known than wine estates.
France has 650 cooperative wine cellars which produce wine. Their organization is rather simple: a group of winegrowers gathers their harvest in a single place of production. This production space becomes responsible for the harvest’s vinification, bottling, bottle storage and the wine’s sale. Cooperative wine cellars can be found in all French wine regions. However, they are widespread in the south of France and in Alsace, while Burgundy has only 2.
The technical vine and wine professions
Among all wine professions, let's start with those who are at its origins: the vine professions.
crédit : maculature.fr
Vine-workers: The vine worker estate employee who carries out all the necessary tasks for the vine’s growth: pruning, tying, trellising, vine training... He can also be a tractor driver, in charge of ploughing which requires tractors’ utilization. He is a permanent employee and often becomes a team manager during intense periods when the estate calls upon seasonal workers.
The crop manager: The crop manager supervises the employees. The vineyard manager also represents the link between the board or winemaker and the vineyard workers.
The task manager: By definition, the task manager is a person employed to carry out a given task upstream. In fact, the task manager is an independent viticultural worker who carries out "a task" on behalf of a winegrower, on average this task is a vineyard area of about 3 hectares and 31 acres. On this surface, the task is responsible for all non-mechanized tasks. The task manager follows the vineyard’s calendar and its different stages.
The winegrower: The winegrower can produce wine or just produce grapes. Some winegrowers take care of their vines throughout the year and then sell their harvest to merchants and cooperative cellars.
The nurseryman: The nurseryman is often forgotten in the wine business but remains essential. He is in charge of supplying the new plantations of the estates. His role is key in safeguarding the genetic heritage of the estate’s vineyards.
crédit : emmanuelavin.fr
After the work in the vineyards, comes the work in the cellar. If a winemaker often has to know how to do everything, the vineyard and winery workers are often specialized in one domain rather than another.
The cellarman: This is the employee in charge of following the maturing of the wines under the control of the cellar master or the winemaker. During the harvest, he helps with the vinification, then transfers the wine to the vats, follows the fermentation and takes care of the wine until it is bottled. When the estate uses oak barrels, the cellar master also takes care of the oak barrels. He cleans them and takes care of their maintenance throughout the year.
The cellar master: The cellar master is responsible for wine maturing. He manages all of the estate’s wine blending and maturing. He works in agreement with the vineyard manager, to define a viticulture which will improve and refine the wine’s taste. He is in charge of all the wine merchants.
The oenologist: The oenologist is the wine chemist. He studies wine’s reactions and the elements it contains. His advice is essential in choosing the right harvest date, the type of blending, curing wine diseases (development of bacteria for instance), the choice of yeasts. Few domains hire oenologists, which is why oenology laboratories and consultant oenologists are primordial.
The cooper: The cooper is the maker of the barrels that are used to mature the wine. He plays an important role in an estate’s life. Without him, the cellar master would not have the right instruments to mature and elaborate high-class wines. Each cooper has his own trademark. He creates, at the request of the winemakers, more or less scented wine barrels.
In many estates, all of these tasks are concentrated within one person’s hands, who changes roles along the course of the day. In small wineries, it is often the winemaker who is in charge of working the vines, producing and ageing the wine and marketing it.
After the jobs in the vineyard and the cellar, let's explore the developing professions related to wine trade.
Service and sales
crédit : La RVF
Le Caviste (store): The caviste is the person who manages a store which sells wine. He is the winemaker’s spokesman and advises his customers according to their requests. The wine merchant selects his wines. He travels all over France in search of specific bottles that he likes and that will please his customers. In France, 1 bottle out of 10 is sold in a wine shop. However, a good number of wine merchants now belong to a chain of stores, so they are not independent and have less latitude in the choice of wines sold.
The sommelier: He advises customers within restaurants or bars on the choice of wine according to the dishes chosen. Often confused with the oenologist, his speciality is not the elaboration of the wine but its service: temperature, glasses, agreements... He is also in charge of the cellar’s constitution, purchases and the cellar’s management. Don't hesitate to check this video to discover Bernard Neveu!
Bernard Neveu, Head Sommelier of the Bristol Palace in Paris.
The Critic: The critic is a journalist who tastes the wines, comments on them and rates them. Highly influential critics can completely change fashions and change the style of wines. This is the case of Robert Parker, whose good marks changed the way Bordeaux wines were made in the 1990s by favouring very strong wines aged for a long time in oak barrels. In France the most famous critics are Bettane & Desseauve, La Revue des Vins de France and the Guide vert du Hachette du vin.
Importers: As mentioned in the introduction, French wine is a highly exported product. The wineries work with importers in foreign countries to market their wines throughout the world. Following the example of wine merchants, importers criss-cross the vineyards to select the wines to be marketed and sold. In some countries where the import of alcohol is highly controlled, such as the United States, licensed importers are major players in the wine market and indispensable partners.
To conclude, the world of wine is a complete world where all the professions work together to create a high-class product and establish its reputation. Although some professions are difficult, the world of wine is often a world of enthusiasts. All the players in the sector agree to keep this French pride alive!