It’s a sign of the economic times, perhaps, that the winemaker merry-go-round has virtually creaked to a halt, the fairground music taking on a doleful note. Years back, when it was all gogogo, it seemed that winemakers were giving up their jobs (occasionally just before harvest and causing a panic), finding better ones and leaving gaps for someone else to fill. Winemaking jobs now – what winemaking jobs? Winemakers are, on the whole, pleased to have a place, and stick to it.
And wineries are not looking to seduce the stars to come their way. Now, that is something interpretable as a good sign, a sign of maturity, a sign of more faith in the vineyards than magic in the cellar. Or am I being too hopeful?
Whatever, it’s noticeable just how many of the grander places left vacant by senior winemakers moving (for whatever reason) have been filled not by interviewing hordes of hopefuls, or by headhunting. Rather by the assistant winemaker quietly moving into the vacant slot.
Immediately I can think of this happening in the last few years at a number of important wineries that could easily have attracted some big names: Delaire, Constantia Glen, Quoin Rock, Waterkloof, Klein Constantia, Waterford. And I bet there are more.
Of course, it would be possible for someone a bit more cynical than I am to think of another good reason why a winery might prefer to have the youngster move into the senior position – it could well be a great deal cheaper, and times are tough. Give the kid a bit of a nice raise, and the chances are the salary could still be pretty small compared to what the erstwhile cellarmaster was earning or what trying to seduce one of the fancy names would cost….
[First published under the now deleted “Widow’s Nephew’ section on this website]