Viticulturist (winemaker)

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John, 50s

Born and bred in the Barossa Valley, John Gursansky says that viticulture is practically in his blood.

Currently the Manager of both Sunset Vineyards and Sunset Sultana in Nangiloc, he has been in the industry for 45 years, and finds it an extremely rewarding and progressive industry to be in.

What sort of work do you do?

"The work is interesting, the future prospects are very encouraging, and at the moment, the work is also very well paid. And as decision making is extremely important to the success of the business, this also makes the job a particularly challenging one," John says.

As a viticulturist, you will be making decisions about which varieties of grape to plant, methods of pest and disease control, and canopy management. You will also be responsible for vine training, irrigation management and fertiliser application.

What are some of the challenges?

Perhaps the biggest challenge you will be up against is the weather. "Whether it's frost, or rain just before the harvest, the weather can really set you back. And while there are certain cultural practices to minimise the effects of frost, or to solve the problem of too little rain (i.e., irrigation), there's just nothing you can do to stop the rain when you don't want it!"

Also, given that much of the work you will be required to undertake will be outdoors, you should be prepared to work during the warmer weather.

"There will be plenty of days when it will reach over 50°C out in the sun, and some people might not find this an attractive prospect at all, but unfortunately, the vines just don't wait," says John.

How do you become a viticulturist?

So apart from being able to tolerate the heat, what are some of the other requirements to get into this career? "Well, experience in the industry is very useful, and importantly, you need to be capable of remembering and learning from this experience... And when seeking some experience on a vineyard, enquire about the type of property before making your choice. Is the vineyard large or small? Is it well equipped or not? And what sort of prospects are offered? Be prepared to work and observe others, and try to get involved in all aspects of growing and maintaining grape crops."

"You'll also need a reasonable grasp of numeracy, particularly if you want to get into management," John adds.

Do you need formal qualifications?

John also feels that while tertiary qualifications can help provide you with the knowledge that you'll need to apply as a viticulturist, they're by no means essential. Basically, how you obtain the knowledge is in some ways less important than how good you are at applying it.

"Presently we have two assistant managers (both viticulturists) working with us, and neither possess tertiary qualifications. They both started off at the bottom, got involved in all aspects of the work, and got promoted.

There are a lot of opportunities for advancement in this industry if you apply yourself and don't mind getting your hands dirty."

Any tips for new players?

Finally, John advises, "If you're interested in viticulture, be prepared to work, to observe, and to keep learning. Choose your employers so that you have a prospect of advancement, and you could find yourself in a rewarding career for years to come."

Find out more about a career in viticulture

Visit the MyFuture website to find more about duties and tasks, work conditions, earnings and required qualifications for a career in viticulture.

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).