Career Spotlight: Viticulturist
By Gwen Myslinski
Many countries all over the world make remarkable wines — some that go for thousands of dollars. But what makes these wine enthusiasts pay exorbitant amounts of money for one bottle of wine? It generally boils down to the grapes. Who knows more about grapes than the person who breeds and cultivates them? The viticulturist.
Viticulturists grow high-quality grapes to make the best wine possible. They determine the best time to harvest and prune, and are vigilant in evaluating the vineyards for pests, disease, grapevine fertilization and mineral nutrition, irrigation and more. These "grape experts" are often working with vineyards, but can be found working for federal and state governments, colleges and universities and the private sector.
Students who are interested in pursuing a career in viticulture should take high school courses in the sciences, basic agriculture and communications and enroll in college classes like grapevine biology, water management and soil nutrition. To enter the field, an individual can earn anything from a certificate to an associate or bachelor's degree. However, those who want to go into research will also oftentimes need to earn a master's degree and/or a doctorate.
According to SimplyHired.com, the average annual salary for a viticulturist is $79,000, though it can vary greatly depending on the level of experience, education and geographic location. For example, a person in this field can earn an average salary of $105,000 in San Francisco, while in Erie, Pa., the average salary drops to $67,000 per year, according to the same website.
A study compiled by Cornell University reports employment opportunities are expected to increase between 9-17 percent between 2005 and 2014. Many of those jobs will be with private wineries in all 50 states, as well as with government and university research departments to improve vineyard management methods, harvesting techniques, environmental protection, water conservation, yield, quality and regulatory compliance.
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- When starting a new vineyard, what are some considerations a viticulturist has to think about? How does science and engineering play a role in the preparation? (i.e., proper trellis systems for sun exposure, air movement for avoiding mildew, etc.)
- Grapes play a significant role in the cost of a bottle of wine. How do they affect the cost?