How To Become a Viticulturist: A Comprehensive Guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published August 25, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Viticulturists use their knowledge and experience in grape production to provide valuable guidance to researchers, growers and food and beverage buyers. If you're interested in the study and harvesting of grapes, you might enjoy a career in viticulture. Learning more about the responsibilities, steps and education needed to become a viticulturist can help you decide if a career in the field is right for you. In this article, we explain what a viticulturist is, list their common job duties, explore their valuable skills, discuss how to become one and provide salary and job outlook information for the vocation.

What is a viticulturist?

A viticulturist is a scientific expert who specializes in the study of grapes, specifically for their use in the production of foods and beverages, like dried fruit and wine. They often work for vineyards and wine producers, but they may also work as lab technicians or researches in a laboratory or university. Because grape growing is specific to certain regions, like California, many viticulturists work in regional areas known for their grape production. Some may also travel to vineyards or growing sites in different states.

In academic spaces, these experts are important contributors to the horticulture industry. They provide valuable research and insight into the study, development and breeding of new grape varieties.

What does a viticulturist do?

Viticulturists can perform a variety of tasks depending on the type of work they do and who they work for. Typically, viticulturists perform the following duties:

  • Managing vineyard operations

  • Implementing irrigation and pest control measures

  • Monitoring soil health

  • Overseeing growing, harvesting and pruning

  • Working with winemakers and grape buyers

  • Evaluating grape health, quality and ripeness

  • Training vineyard workers on harvesting processes

  • Implementing strategies to increase productivity and yields

  • Operating vineyard machinery

  • Identifying grape characteristics for wine making

  • Recording and analyzing data

Related: 14 Jobs in Gardening and Horticulture

Viticulturist skills

Viticulturists' work often involves aspects of both science and business management. It's important for them to understand both the food or wine buying side of their operations and the agricultural science necessary to yield quality harvests. Here are some skills it's helpful to have as a viticulturist:

  • Industry knowledge: Agricultural and horticultural knowledge can be extremely useful for viticulturists because it can help them develop effective strategies for optimal grape production. Being aware of industry changes and trends, like wine buying preferences and popular grape varieties, is also important for grape scientists.

  • Problem-solving skills: Viticulturists might encounter problems in their work, like pest issues, low yield years or soil contamination. Applying problem-solving skills to setbacks can help them maintain healthy crops and continually produce quality harvests.

  • Interpersonal and communication skills: Working with food and beverage buyers, agriculture workers and other scientists can require strong interpersonal and communication skills.

  • Ability to live in regions where grapes grow: Many viticulturists choose to live in regions known for grape growing because it can improve their job opportunities. A desire to work outside and travel to other vineyards can also be helpful.

  • Observational skills: Attention to detail is an important skill for viticulturists because they need to examine grapes and their conditions to understand which strategies to incorporate. Noticing potential problems before they occur can help them keep their plants healthy and thriving.

Related: 17 Jobs in the Alcohol Industry (Plus Salaries)

How to become a viticulturist

If you're interested in becoming a viticulturist, here are some steps you can take:

1. Pursue a related degree

The first step to becoming a viticulturist is to pursue an associate or bachelor's degree in the agricultural field. Most technician positions require at least a two-year degree, while positions in management or research may require more advanced degrees. Some universities offer degree programs specific to viticulture, but there are other degrees that can qualify you to work as a grape scientist, including:

  • Biology

  • Horticulture

  • Agriculture

  • Botany

  • Chemistry

2. Gain experience in the field

Many viticulture positions, specifically those for management or research roles, have experience requirements. Your college courses might include field work aspects, but consider getting an entry-level job in a vineyard or research laboratory. This way, you can develop practical experience and boost the relevance of your resume. When looking for opportunities, it's often helpful to look in states and regions known for growing grapes. You might also seek work in a university offering viticulture studies as a degree option.

While every state in the U.S. engages in grape growing, the largest producers are states like:

  • California

  • Oregon

  • New York

  • Virginia

  • Washington

Related: How To Become a Winemaker: Definition, Steps and FAQ

3. Acquire additional licensure

Commercial grape production frequently requires the use of pest control measures like pesticides. To use pesticides safely and ensure your compliance with federal and local regulations, consider pursuing a formal license in pesticide application. Some jobs may even require licensure prior to hiring a candidate for a viticulturist position. You can research job opportunities near you to discover what their licensing requirements are and to find a program able to advance your career.

4. Develop skills

Successful viticulturists are grape experts. They understand every aspect of grape growing, harvesting and production. Becoming proficient in identifying the conditions necessary for optimal grape growing can take time and practical experience. Work to develop your knowledge and skills by continuing to research best practices and observing multiple grape growing seasons. The skills you gain over time can help you analyze important aspects of grape growing, like evaluating soil quality, irrigation methods, pest control, harvesting techniques, climate considerations and grape species.

Developing your business skills can also help you advance in the field. Many viticulturists work with food and beverage buyers. Following industry trends can help them choose the most popular grape varieties, advertise their grape quality and growing conditions and make industry connections.

Related: What Does a Horticulturist Do? (With Duties and Skills)

5. Pursue continuing education opportunities

As you develop your skills and experience, consider looking for continuing education opportunities. Pursuing an advanced degree or learning more about winemaking and growing techniques can grow your knowledge and help qualify you for more advanced positions. If you're interested in working in academia, furthering your education may also allow for more research and development opportunities.

Viticulturist salary and job outlook

While there isn't data available for viticulture jobs specifically, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) offers salary information for agricultural and food scientists, who make an average salary of $68,830 a year. Salary information can depend on your location, employer and level of education or experience. The BLS also expects the job outlook for the industry to grow 6% between 2019 and 2020, which is faster than average.

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