Getting into the business: finding good harvest internships

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Ben M a n d l e r
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Getting into the business: finding good harvest internships

#1 Post by Ben M a n d l e r » February 4th, 2019, 3:46 pm

Hi everyone,

I'm still pretty new to this forum having been away from the online wine community for some years, but I know a lot of people here have been or are involved in the vineyard-to-bottle process so I'm hoping I can tap into some of your insights.

I'm 30, trained as a geologist, but looking to transition into the wine industry. I want to combine my love of science, nature, physical work (been sitting behind a desk too much for the past couple years and can't stand it), and, of course, wine. I have huge respect for sommeliers, distributors, marketers, critics, writers, and lab scientists, but what I personally want to do is to make wine for a living. I don't have any illusions about this, I know it's going to be a hell of a lot of work to get there, but I am one of those people who loves working towards things just as much as getting there. My girlfriend and I are moving to California this year (half of my family and all of her family are from there) and I want to use that as an opportunity to work my first harvest this year.

I know a lot of wineries are posting 2019 internships now so I have a few questions for those who know more about this than I do. For reference, we might have some flexibility regarding our location so for now I'm potentially open to opportunities as far north as Anderson Valley, as far south as Santa Cruz Mountains, and as far east as Sierra Foothills. We also have family in San Diego so Temecula and Ramona are options. If I could pick a dream location, Russian River Valley/Dry Creek Valley/Sonoma Coast - we have family in Santa Rosa and I've always loved the area and its wines.
- Do wineries have reputations for having better or worse harvest internships, or are they similar across the board? Are there any that have particularly good reputations that I should look into, or bad ones that I should avoid?
- Are there advantages to working at a smaller or larger winery for a harvest internship?
- Is there such a thing as "typical" hours for a harvest intern? I've tried to find info on this online but haven't been so successful. I'm fine with long hours, but trying to figure out if I'd also have time to fit in a night class.
- Do wineries ever have "unposted" internships? If I start calling people up will I just irritate them?
- Could I live an hour's drive away from the winery? Trying to figure out of the girlfriend and I should look for a specific spot or if I should just go find a short-term place myself for the duration of the harvest.
- Are all internships paid? Is $15/hour standard (I've seen it in a lot of places) or does it vary a lot?

Sorry for the long post, and thank you to anyone who can provide any answers. And if anyone on here is looking for an intern themselves, especially one who really wants to understand every part of the process from soil to shelf, I'd love to chat.

Wes Barton
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Re: Getting into the business: finding good harvest internships

#2 Post by Wes Barton » February 4th, 2019, 6:11 pm

Pick up a copy of this:

- Nothing is typical.

- Standard hours? 20? Really, it is what it is. Grapes have to come in when they're ready, then need to be processed. It takes as long as it takes. A friend had a 28 hour work day last harvest. Some operations are big enough that non-crush tasks like punch downs are full time. One place a friend worked he was expected to live on site, even though his wife and family were a half hour away. He had time to go home once or twice a week during the busiest 2 months. If you're somewhere busy enough to be getting a lot of experience, don't count on time for a social life.

- I'd recommend a shared facility, so multiple labels and winemakers, who share interns. Or, at least somewhere with a good variety of wines. Look for somewhere with a different perspective to learn from each harvest. Consider southern hemisphere harvests to double your experience. With a winery too big, you might get stuck with a narrow focus, doing the same limited set of tasks. Too small and there might just not be too much to experience. A focused winery might have a much shorter harvest season than one using many varieties, sourcing from several regions.

- Some internships are found by word of mouth, networking. Make a good impression while visiting and ask. Others are very difficult to land, high demand, rigorous hiring process.
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Casey Hartlip
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Re: Getting into the business: finding good harvest internships

#3 Post by Casey Hartlip » February 4th, 2019, 6:52 pm

Funny, nobody ever wants to work in the vineyard.
Ordway's Valley Foothills

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Al Osterheld
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Re: Getting into the business: finding good harvest internships

#4 Post by Al Osterheld » February 5th, 2019, 6:01 am

Casey Hartlip wrote:
February 4th, 2019, 6:52 pm
Funny, nobody ever wants to work in the vineyard.
And after you've made it sound so rewarding!

-Al

Ben M a n d l e r
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Re: Getting into the business: finding good harvest internships

#5 Post by Ben M a n d l e r » February 5th, 2019, 7:25 pm

Wes Barton wrote:
February 4th, 2019, 6:11 pm
Pick up a copy of this:

- Nothing is typical.

- Standard hours? 20? Really, it is what it is. Grapes have to come in when they're ready, then need to be processed. It takes as long as it takes. A friend had a 28 hour work day last harvest. Some operations are big enough that non-crush tasks like punch downs are full time. One place a friend worked he was expected to live on site, even though his wife and family were a half hour away. He had time to go home once or twice a week during the busiest 2 months. If you're somewhere busy enough to be getting a lot of experience, don't count on time for a social life.

- I'd recommend a shared facility, so multiple labels and winemakers, who share interns. Or, at least somewhere with a good variety of wines. Look for somewhere with a different perspective to learn from each harvest. Consider southern hemisphere harvests to double your experience. With a winery too big, you might get stuck with a narrow focus, doing the same limited set of tasks. Too small and there might just not be too much to experience. A focused winery might have a much shorter harvest season than one using many varieties, sourcing from several regions.

- Some internships are found by word of mouth, networking. Make a good impression while visiting and ask. Others are very difficult to land, high demand, rigorous hiring process.
Thanks Wes, it's on its way! I had seen Mary's previous thread in my hunting around and gleaned a bunch of helpful information from that.

That's good to know about the time expectations - looks like I'm clearing my calendar. And thanks for the tips - certainly variety of experience sounds good - I want to learn as much as I can.

Ben M a n d l e r
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Re: Getting into the business: finding good harvest internships

#6 Post by Ben M a n d l e r » February 5th, 2019, 7:29 pm

Casey Hartlip wrote:
February 4th, 2019, 6:52 pm
Funny, nobody ever wants to work in the vineyard.
You've got me wrong, Casey. I love the idea of working in the vineyard. Just taking this one step at a time. I'd ideally like to do three harvests over the next three years: one in the winery, one in the vineyard, one in the lab.

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Casey Hartlip
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Re: Getting into the business: finding good harvest internships

#7 Post by Casey Hartlip » February 5th, 2019, 7:48 pm

If I could make a suggestion. One in the winery, one in the vineyard, and one in sales would cover all aspects of the biz. Best of luck to you!
Ordway's Valley Foothills

Ben M a n d l e r
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Re: Getting into the business: finding good harvest internships

#8 Post by Ben M a n d l e r » February 6th, 2019, 8:22 am

Casey Hartlip wrote:
February 5th, 2019, 7:48 pm
If I could make a suggestion. One in the winery, one in the vineyard, and one in sales would cover all aspects of the biz. Best of luck to you!
Noted. Thanks Casey!

GregP
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Re: Getting into the business: finding good harvest internships

#9 Post by GregP » February 8th, 2019, 12:31 pm

Casey Hartlip wrote:
February 5th, 2019, 7:48 pm
If I could make a suggestion. One in the winery, one in the vineyard, and one in sales would cover all aspects of the biz. Best of luck to you!
Casey, for someone just jumping into sales, and most likely with a large distributor, all he'll be doing for months on end, at first, is stacking cases for display. Its useless.
G r e g P i a t i g o r s k i
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John Oglesby
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Re: Getting into the business: finding good harvest internships

#10 Post by John Oglesby » February 9th, 2019, 5:07 am

Ben M a n d l e r wrote:
February 4th, 2019, 3:46 pm
Hi everyone,

I'm still pretty new to this forum having been away from the online wine community for some years, but I know a lot of people here have been or are involved in the vineyard-to-bottle process so I'm hoping I can tap into some of your insights.

I'm 30, trained as a geologist, but looking to transition into the wine industry. I want to combine my love of science, nature, physical work (been sitting behind a desk too much for the past couple years and can't stand it), and, of course, wine. I have huge respect for sommeliers, distributors, marketers, critics, writers, and lab scientists, but what I personally want to do is to make wine for a living. I don't have any illusions about this, I know it's going to be a hell of a lot of work to get there, but I am one of those people who loves working towards things just as much as getting there. My girlfriend and I are moving to California this year (half of my family and all of her family are from there) and I want to use that as an opportunity to work my first harvest this year.

I know a lot of wineries are posting 2019 internships now so I have a few questions for those who know more about this than I do. For reference, we might have some flexibility regarding our location so for now I'm potentially open to opportunities as far north as Anderson Valley, as far south as Santa Cruz Mountains, and as far east as Sierra Foothills. We also have family in San Diego so Temecula and Ramona are options. If I could pick a dream location, Russian River Valley/Dry Creek Valley/Sonoma Coast - we have family in Santa Rosa and I've always loved the area and its wines.
- Do wineries have reputations for having better or worse harvest internships, or are they similar across the board? Are there any that have particularly good reputations that I should look into, or bad ones that I should avoid?
- Are there advantages to working at a smaller or larger winery for a harvest internship?
- Is there such a thing as "typical" hours for a harvest intern? I've tried to find info on this online but haven't been so successful. I'm fine with long hours, but trying to figure out if I'd also have time to fit in a night class.
- Do wineries ever have "unposted" internships? If I start calling people up will I just irritate them?
- Could I live an hour's drive away from the winery? Trying to figure out of the girlfriend and I should look for a specific spot or if I should just go find a short-term place myself for the duration of the harvest.
- Are all internships paid? Is $15/hour standard (I've seen it in a lot of places) or does it vary a lot?

Sorry for the long post, and thank you to anyone who can provide any answers. And if anyone on here is looking for an intern themselves, especially one who really wants to understand every part of the process from soil to shelf, I'd love to chat.
Try to be as close as you can to whichever winery you're going to work at. My first harvest I was 1h15m away and your body feels it after awhile. That was also back in 2004, and gas was quite a bit cheaper back then. Plus- you want to be close to enjoy that beer with your fellow interns when you get off work. $15 is entry level for beginners in the field... And all internships are paid. Harvest is where we make our money- 6x12 is the bare minimum for a work week. During the apex of harvest don't expect a day off for a few weeks and those hours per day closer to 18. You will not have time or the endurance for a night class unless you're on amphetamines.

I wouldn't necessarily go the shared facility route as you want to get a good foundation of cellar skills- and taking orders from multiple people over one will confuse you since you won't really know what you're doing. If you truly want to be a Cellar Jedi, and not a hack- then youll need to understand that it is a process that takes years to master. Find a place with a seasoned cellar that want to teach you and not just use you as a hand to clean the pad. Shared facilities are great for networking but they're generally a Chateau Sh*tshow when it comes to organization and standards. And really, one temperamental winemaker is enough to handle.

I'd honestly recommend working for a medium sized corporate winery. 500-1000 ton facility. You will get fully trained in every aspect of the operation- including the most important of winery safety. The small outfits just throw you in there and say "hold your breath" when working with chemicals.

Internships are just now being posted- by all means if you want to work at a certain winery just contact them. It never hurts- and taking the initiative shows a desire. Geologists do tend to fare well.. but they will have a stronger understanding of vineyard in their first go around.

We just automatically refuse lawyers. ;)

Wineries do have reputations. Some treat you great, some are managed by people that will treat you like an expendable and don't care if you break.

Look for a winery that does early varietals to late varietals. If you find one that does Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Gris, then Pinot and later on a Cab then you're in for a good 3-4 month internship. If youre at a house that does mainly Chard/Cab then you'll be in and out in 2-3 months.

And I think everyone wants to really work in the vineyard. They just don't know it yet.
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John Oglesby
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Re: Getting into the business: finding good harvest internships

#11 Post by John Oglesby » February 9th, 2019, 5:20 am

Oh- and if you want your harvest to be sane - stay away from places that promote their production as being mainly off their estate vineyard. You'll get slammed with a tsunami of fruit. Estate Vineyard blocks essentially ripen within 2 weeks if each other. Good idea to look for a place with spread out fruit sources... It will make your job easier and it will extend your internship.
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Ben M a n d l e r
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Re: Getting into the business: finding good harvest internships

#12 Post by Ben M a n d l e r » February 9th, 2019, 2:37 pm

John Oglesby wrote:
February 9th, 2019, 5:20 am
Oh- and if you want your harvest to be sane - stay away from places that promote their production as being mainly off their estate vineyard. You'll get slammed with a tsunami of fruit. Estate Vineyard blocks essentially ripen within 2 weeks if each other. Good idea to look for a place with spread out fruit sources... It will make your job easier and it will extend your internship.
John - thank you. This is exactly the kind of information I'm looking for - that is all extremely helpful to know and I will keep an eye out for some of those potential perks and pitfalls.

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N Weis
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Re: Getting into the business: finding good harvest internships

#13 Post by N Weis » February 10th, 2019, 12:41 pm

- Do wineries have reputations for having better or worse harvest internships, or are they similar across the board? Are there any that have particularly good reputations that I should look into, or bad ones that I should avoid? Absolutely. Do a bit of research on them first and I would say there are 100% experiences you will enjoy and that you should avoid. There is a guy starting sort of a Yelp! type service on winery internships. Ratemywinemaker or something like that....
- Are there advantages to working at a smaller or larger winery for a harvest internship? To both. Generally, a larger winery will probably have their stuff together, enough people and resources, fair labor practices, etc. A smaller winery might, too, but you will encounter the alternatives more often at a small winery. Although you will also likely get a lot more hours and exposure to a lot more activities and facets.
- Is there such a thing as "typical" hours for a harvest intern? I've tried to find info on this online but haven't been so successful. I'm fine with long hours, but trying to figure out if I'd also have time to fit in a night class. No such thing as typical. I have occasionally had interns who did other stuff at night like wait tables, etc. You will need a very understanding and compassionate supervisor for that.
- Do wineries ever have "unposted" internships? If I start calling people up will I just irritate them? Yes and yes.
- Could I live an hour's drive away from the winery? Trying to figure out of the girlfriend and I should look for a specific spot or if I should just go find a short-term place myself for the duration of the harvest. You can but it'll wear on you most likely. Not necessarily, though. Depends on your own internal gut instinct on that. Might be a great time for decompression.
- Are all internships paid? Is $15/hour standard (I've seen it in a lot of places) or does it vary a lot? In my opinion (not a lawyer), they should be or your employer is breaking the law. Volunteerism is pretty well established as illegal for wineries. I'd guess between $14 and 18 for the range. Maybe more for a few places. Do NOT ever accept a contract pay rate. I have heard of a few places trying this for a monthly stipend sort of arrangement. Not cool in my opinion...guess who will be there first to set up or check Brix and last to leave after cleaning up?
ITB - N @ t e

Ben M a n d l e r
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Re: Getting into the business: finding good harvest internships

#14 Post by Ben M a n d l e r » February 15th, 2019, 8:40 pm

N Weis wrote:
February 10th, 2019, 12:41 pm
- Do wineries have reputations for having better or worse harvest internships, or are they similar across the board? Are there any that have particularly good reputations that I should look into, or bad ones that I should avoid? Absolutely. Do a bit of research on them first and I would say there are 100% experiences you will enjoy and that you should avoid. There is a guy starting sort of a Yelp! type service on winery internships. Ratemywinemaker or something like that....
- Are there advantages to working at a smaller or larger winery for a harvest internship? To both. Generally, a larger winery will probably have their stuff together, enough people and resources, fair labor practices, etc. A smaller winery might, too, but you will encounter the alternatives more often at a small winery. Although you will also likely get a lot more hours and exposure to a lot more activities and facets.
- Is there such a thing as "typical" hours for a harvest intern? I've tried to find info on this online but haven't been so successful. I'm fine with long hours, but trying to figure out if I'd also have time to fit in a night class. No such thing as typical. I have occasionally had interns who did other stuff at night like wait tables, etc. You will need a very understanding and compassionate supervisor for that.
- Do wineries ever have "unposted" internships? If I start calling people up will I just irritate them? Yes and yes.
- Could I live an hour's drive away from the winery? Trying to figure out of the girlfriend and I should look for a specific spot or if I should just go find a short-term place myself for the duration of the harvest. You can but it'll wear on you most likely. Not necessarily, though. Depends on your own internal gut instinct on that. Might be a great time for decompression.
- Are all internships paid? Is $15/hour standard (I've seen it in a lot of places) or does it vary a lot? In my opinion (not a lawyer), they should be or your employer is breaking the law. Volunteerism is pretty well established as illegal for wineries. I'd guess between $14 and 18 for the range. Maybe more for a few places. Do NOT ever accept a contract pay rate. I have heard of a few places trying this for a monthly stipend sort of arrangement. Not cool in my opinion...guess who will be there first to set up or check Brix and last to leave after cleaning up?
Thanks Nate - I appreciate the tip about the contract rate especially. Ratemywinemaker I hadn't heard of either - looks like a good resource for the future as it gets going.

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