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04.02.2006

Making a Living in The Wine Business

So you have fantasies about telling that corporate job to shove it and becoming a cellar rat? Got a carboy of wine under the kitchen table and dreaming of being a winemaker? Just have a passing interest in what people actually get paid to stomp grapes? I'm here to tell you: not much.

Well, some people are making a decent living in the wine business, but not everyone. It's a glamorous business, but like so many businesses which deal with products that have an inherent romance, the wine business is a tough place to earn a buck if you don't own the land.

The wine business monthly annual salary survey results were released last week and here are some of the highlights for the annual salaries of key folks in California Wine Country.

Head winemaker: $92,435
Assistant winemaker: $53, 054
Vineyard manager: $76,685
Vice President for sales for a corporate winery: $151,555
Tasting room manager: $47,217
Cellar rat: $32,756
Tasting Room staff: $24,701

(By way of comparison, the median household income in the United States is $43, 318 per year.)

There are some interesting bits of data to go along with the numbers above. Salaries are only slightly lower in Sonoma than Napa. You actually make more as a winemaker for a smaller winery than you do for a big one, but you make more as an assistant winemaker for a larger winery. There are plenty of other interesting bits in the full survey results.

Seems the numbers make it tough to contemplate working your way up from the bottom and might justify going to get that enology degree at Davis before you dive in. But then again, people do all sorts of crazy things to have a job that they love.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.