How to become a Viticulturist in Australia
A Viticulturist is a horticultural scientist responsible for the growth and production of grapes, typically those used in the making of wine. They are in charge of monitoring and maintaining the vines, manipulating them in order to produce a particular result, as desired by the winemaker. The Viticulturist acts as the liaison between the vineyard manager or grower and the winemaker, helping to provide the winery with the type and quantity of grapes they need while ensuring that the grower can maintain a financially profitable business.
The Viticulturist is involved in every stage of the growing process, from the selection and planting of appropriate grape varieties based on terrain and location, all the way up to overseeing and participating in the harvest. They control pests, weeds and disease, manage irrigation of the vines and ensure proper fertilisation. A viticulturist will also monitor and manipulate the development of the fruit, shaping the canopies and pruning the vines as required to achieve the desired outcome.
Although most of their time is spent outdoors, Viticulturists are also tasked with some administrative duties, such as budgeting and determining production costs, researching new grape varieties and growing techniques and reporting on harvests and yields.
If you have a scientific, analytical mind and want to put your love of growing and the outdoors to work, here are a few steps you’ll need to take to become a Viticulturist.
Step 1: Complete your secondary education.
In order to become a Viticulturist, you will first need to obtain a Senior Secondary Certificate of Education (QCE, VCE, HSC etc) and qualify for enrolment into university.
Step 2: Study a relevant degree.
There are a number of study pathways which are conducive to a career as a Viticulturist. Many universities offer degrees in viticulture or oenology (the study of wines) and, while these paths are recommended, you may also qualify for employment by completing a course in applied science, agricultural science or biology and choosing electives that centre on viticulture.
Step 3: Volunteer and/or apply.
Many Viticulturists start their careers as field hands and work their way up, learning what they can from the Chief Viticulturist along the way, so don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty! Volunteer or apply for entry-level positions helping with harvest and maintenance to begin learning the ins and outs of grape growing from those with years of experience.
Step 4: Obtain a pesticide license.
As a Viticulturist, you will deal with pesticides in order to protect the grapes and vines that you produce. Anybody who intends to provide a service that utilises pesticides in Australia requires licensure. Each state and territory has different regulations and requirements so you will need to research and apply for the relevant authorisation depending on where you wish to pursue employment.
As of 2018, even an assistant to the viticulturist will be required to hold a trainee ground applicator license, so the sooner you can become licensed, the better your employment prospects will be.
What does a Viticulturist do?
The duties of a Viticulturist are many and varied. They liaise with growers and winemakers to determine a vineyard’s desired output, then research and recommend appropriate grape varieties based on location, soil type and the required end-product. Viticulturists monitor and control diseases and pests, test and maintain soil quality and ensure that the vines are properly fertilised and irrigated. They are responsible for managing the physical health of the vines by regulating the size and shape of the canopy and determining when to harvest or prune.
Aside from the hands-on work of actually growing grapes, a Viticulturist will also typically be required to create budgets and monitor production costs. They research emerging grape varieties and growing techniques, generate reports on the yield and quality of each harvest, investigate potential vineyard sites and even spend time in laboratories performing soil analysis and other tests.
- Liaising with growers and winemakers to determine desired outcomes.
- Selecting and growing appropriate variety of grapes.
- Monitoring and controlling pests and disease.
- Managing irrigation and fertilisation.
- Supervising harvest and pruning schedules.
- Generating reports and keeping records.
- Maintaining current knowledge of grape varieties and growing techniques.
Skills for Success
To succeed as a Viticulturist you will need to be passionate, knowledgeable and dedicated to producing the highest quality fruit and greatest yield. You will need to be meticulous and logical with excellent problem-solving skills and the ability to think on your feet. Weather is a fickle thing and can change in an instant so you should be able to respond to these fluctuations quickly and cope well with the pressure of shifting conditions. Viticulturists spend most of their time outside so physical fitness and a love of the outdoors will benefit you immensely. Good communication and people skills will also be a help when dealing with growers, winemakers and field hands on a daily basis.
- Passion for growing and the outdoors.
- Great problem solving skills.
- Logical and analytical thinking.
- Good communication skills.
- Extensive knowledge of growing techniques and grape varieties.
- A solid grasp of scientific methodology.
What is the salary of a Viticulturist in Australia? In Australia, the average salary of a Viticulturist is around $82,122 per year. This varies depending on a number of factors and is intended as a reference only, from Payscale 02/18