Let’s start thinking beyond the enologist

The average wine consumer today is more educated about wines and winemaking than ever before, and as a result, the role of the enologist has evolved from manager of the winemaking process to chief marketer and brand ambassador. In many ways the enologist has become the most important person in the commercial ladder as the key communications and promotions figure in the sales of medium- to high-quality wines. The enologist has become, for better or worse, the “face” of the wine he or she represents, promoting their brand and driving sales.

While enologists no doubt occupy a crucial role in the wine industry, we risk ignoring the collaborative nature of winemaking by placing a disproportionate—and perhaps even irresponsible?—amount of attention, flattery, and accountability on this one position. It’s time that we all begin to think beyond the enologist.

To consider the enologist as the de facto figurehead of any winery often undermines the work of numerous other people involved in the winemaking process. Among the unknown actors who you should thank for that bottle of wine you “loved” last night, consider the viticulturists, the pruners and the waterers (in some cases), the harvesters and the winery managers, the lab analysts, the bottlers, label designers, marketing analysts, purchasers and sales people, and administrators, among others. Winemaking, as we all know, is a collaborative enterprise, and to place all of the success or failure of a vintage on one position—the enologist—is careless at best.

This is not to take away from the important work enologists do, since without them the success of a wine would be a matter of a coin toss sometimes. For example, if 90% of the quality of the wine is grape and terroir, the 10% that the enologist brings in many cases is crucial for the outcome of a great wine. So when I open a bottle of wine that surprises me with its impressive quality, I ask the inevitable question “Who made it?” as if only one person was responsible. It’s no wonder, then, that many enologists today have an overblown sense of importance or even entitlement, and their growing role in the marketing and commercial aspect of the industry is as much to blame for this kind of pressure as the consumer.

Enologists by themselves do not embody or control the success of a wine; instead, we should consider them as leaders of a team, as knowledgeable resources and managers who facilitate the collaboration of wine production.

There are many talented enologists out there who fit this description, who remain humble, diligent, and focused on effectively leading their teams through the winemaking process. Most of the time, these are the people you don’t hear about or see. They are not known on the international circuit, and even locally they are often known only by their coworkers and the fortunate few that have the chance to meet them. I’m thinking here of great winemakers like the Demaria brothers of Piedmont, Italy, or Juan Chavero from Mendoza, Argentina, and so many more who don’t waste their energy chasing celebrity status as enologist, but instead focus their attention on working with their teams to make good wine for our enjoyment!

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