Should I Become a Viticulturist?
Viticulturists are experts in the scientific study of grapes and their production for wine and other foods and beverages. Viticulturists often work for vineyards and wine producers; they may also use their education and experience to become lab technicians or research scientists. They help implement practices that produce optimal quality and productivity for grape growing operations, including everything from planting to harvest, pest and disease control and identifying grape characteristics for winemaking. While grape growing is concentrated in certain regions, most notably California, viticulturists can work in every state and may travel to growing sites. Some danger may be involved in working with vineyard machinery, and long hours are required during harvest season.
Find schools that offer these popular programs
- Agronomy and Crop Science
- Horticultural Science
- Plant Breeding
- Plant Pest Management
- Range Science
|Degree Level||For technicians, an associate's degree or certificate; for scientists and managers, a bachelor's degree|
|Degree Field||Viticulture, horticulture, botany, agricultural science, biology, or chemistry|
|Experience||Related experience required by many employers|
|Licensing||Some positions may require licensing for application of pesticides or pest control advising|
|Key Skills||Analytical, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills, decision-making skills, ability to operate farm machinery and wine making equipment|
|Salary||$35,140 per year (median salary for all agricultural and food science technicians)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Job listings from employers (October 2012).
Step 1: Complete a Postsecondary Program
Depending on their career goals, aspiring viticulturists have a number of educational options. Those interested in working as technicians, whether in a lab or at a vineyard, generally need to complete a 1-year certificate program or a 2-year associate's program. Those who want to work as lab scientists or move into vineyard management should earn a bachelor's degree, which typically requires four years of study. Some research scientists hold a doctoral degree.
Programs in viticulture (often combined with enology, the study of winemaking) provide the most directly relevant education. There are undergraduate and graduate certificates, as well as undergraduate and graduate degree programs in viticulture. Topics covered in these programs include the physiology of grapevines, stock selection and propagation, terroir, pest control, nutrition and irrigation, fruit and wine biochemistry, and vineyard management.
However, the number of viticulture programs is quite limited, especially at the bachelor's and graduate levels. Future viticulturists, especially those interested in research careers, could instead major in botany, horticulture, agricultural sciences, biology, or chemistry, taking any viticulture-related courses that are available.
- Participate in an internship. Some schools maintain their own vineyards to provide hands-on experience, and many also offer internships. These kinds of opportunities can help students prepare for full-time work.
Step 2: Earn a Pesticide License
Viticulturists working in the field may need to apply pesticides in order to limit pest damage on grapes and vines. Many states require those who apply pesticides, and sometimes those who give advice on their use, to be licensed. For viticulturists, licensing categories may include private applicator or pest control advisor. Specific requirements vary by state, but licensing typically requires completion of a qualifying exam.
Step 3: Start Working in Viticulture
Depending on their education and experience levels, viticulturists may find employment in a range of settings. They may work for grape growers, wineries, and processors of raisins and table grapes. There are opportunities to work in labs, where scientists and the technicians who assist them take on a range of research and development projects.
They may seek improvements in vineyard management, harvest methods, the yield and quality of grapes, and regulatory compliance. Hands-on work can include pruning, irrigation, trellising, fertilization, pest control, and propagation. Managers may oversee the daily operations of vineyards and supervise staff members.
Step 4: Advance Your Career
Viticulturists can advance their career by acquiring experience working in the field, and pursuing further education. Developing strong skills in problem solving and innovative thinking is critical for working in upper level positions in this industry. A bachelor's degree will allow for advancement to higher positions like vineyard manager or acquiring the necessary skills to own and operate one's own vineyard. A master's degree or PhD is necessary for advancing to lead scientist positions or becoming a professor of viticulture and enology at a university.