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Become self-employed as a winemaker – set up your own winery

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THE history of wine it probably dates back to 8,000 years ago. So it has fascinated people for a long time. Some see it only as a delicious accompaniment to food, others as a real passion. In the latter case, you should think about starting your own winery. To be successful as a winemaker, you should specifically

  • examine the training courses to become a winemaker,
  • know the legal requirements for your winery,
  • develop a clear business plan that creates a business foundation for you e
  • match your product to your target audience.
  • and of course choosing the right cellar or the right location/vineyard

We'll show you in detail how it all works here.

Step 1: Become a winemaker – pathways to a career

The profession of winemaker is quite exotic these days. Many young people don't even consider it an option; they often have no relation to wine. The desire to become a winemaker is therefore often the result of a long family tradition, i.e. the parents have already worked with wine or even run their own winery. But you don't have to come from a family of winemakers to be successful in this business. Anyone passionate about wine can learn the craft of a winemaker, regardless of previous knowledge or age. This also applies to a career change if you want a career reorientation or have discovered your love for wine late.

Vintner – a profile work

Before you decide to become a winemaker, you should know what day-to-day work is like in this profession. A winemaker is responsible for the cultivation and production of wine. This includes the cultivation and care of the vines, the harvesting of the grapes, but also their complete processing. It can be classic wine, sparkling wine, grape juice or various products. A winegrower is not only responsible for the wine, but can diversify his offer. He is also responsible for the marketing and distribution of his products.

It is therefore a very versatile and varied, but also demanding professional profile. The workplace and job content change every day. During your training and to gain first experience, you are usually employed at a winery or winery. Then you can start your own winery. Since there are no state requirements for this, this career is also theoretically available Open to career changers without education, studies or professional experience. Well-founded knowledge is indispensable for success as a winemaker, which is why the classic training course is worthwhile, unless you already have this knowledge, for example from family tradition.

Most importantly: passion

So there isn't just one way to start a successful winery. The personal needs you bring with you are therefore more important than the question of your education. Passion is the keyword here, because as a winemaker you will work with wine every day and you have to be really enthusiastic about this topic so that you don't get tired one day. Another important quality is creativity.

Although we talk about viticulture, it is actually a creative profession. This gives you the opportunity to give your wine a personal touch. Differences are often noticed when a wine was produced by a man or a woman. they are winemakers no longer an exception in industry Women enjoy the same career opportunities as men. It doesn't depend on the genre, but on having the right feeling for wine to be successful as a winemaker or with your own cellar. Other success factors are of course one entrepreneurial personality in general, as well as the necessary knowledge, regardless of when and how it was acquired.

The classic way: training as a winemaker

Classical training as a winemaker is a sensible first step towards one day founding your own winery. For this, one double education offered, which lasts three years and takes place partly in the vocational school and partly in the training company. All phases of wine production are overcome and the first professional experience is acquired. To start an apprenticeship as a winemaker you don't need a specific school diploma, but in practice this is often the case Applicants with university entrance qualification preferred. At the end of the training you will complete the Final exam to become a winemaker.

Highly scientific: Viticulture/Oenology study

Now you can also study viticulture. Several universities offer corresponding courses courses A. They have different names, for example viticulture and oenology, International wine business OR wine economy. All allow you to enter the wine industry after graduation and, if you wish, create your own winery. The course lasts from six to eight semesters and also covers all the production phases of wine production. In addition, you will gain the necessary knowledge about running a correspondent business, marketing, sales and more. During the internships you can already gain your first practical experience. An overview of the possible You can find course offers here.

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Straight to the point of work: training as a sommelier

As mentioned above, there is also the possibility starting his own winery as a career change. This is theoretically possible even if you are completely unfamiliar with the industry if you hire qualified specialists for the individual tasks and are therefore “only” responsible for the management. However, it's much easier if you have at least a basic understanding of wine and are enthusiastic about it. A significant training is therefore that as a sommelier, because you acquire an extensive knowledge of wine and find out what makes a really good wine. This is the only way you may one day be able to make a successful wine yourself.

Like yourself he sets up on his own as a sommelier and opens a wine shopwe have prepared an extra “Become self-employed as…” for you.

Tiring, but possible: becoming a winemaker without training

In principle, it is possible to become a winemaker with your own winery without any training. As already described, you can limit yourself to commercial activities and leave the production of “your” wine to the experts. Alternatively, you can acquire the knowledge necessary for winemaking yourself. For this you need a lot of self-discipline, a great willingness to learn and at best experienced “mentors” who will support you on your way. You can find more help on websites, books, seminars etc. on the subject. Ultimately, however, practical experience is particularly important, because by trying it sooner or later you will learn how to make a good wine – and how not. “Learning by doing” is also a way to your cellar, but tedious and long.

Step 2: Legal overview for commercial planting of vines

Ultimately, you have to decide for yourself how you want to make the leap to becoming a winemaker and your own winery. In any case, the legal requirements that apply to the commercial planting of vines must be taken into account.

On the one hand, the general requirements for a start-up apply, i.e. you have to register a business, clarify financing, decide on a legal form, draw up a business plan and meet your insurance requirements – to name just a few. so many points on the “to do list”. More information in point 3.

IMPORTANT: There are special regulations for the production, sale and other wine-related work steps. So you can't just make and sell wine. The following laws must be observed:

  • THE wine law it is comprehensive and includes, for example, the blending regulation, the yield per hectare regulation, the cellar technology, the official wine quality control and the right of designation. All these regulations must be respected in order to avoid fines or prosecution.
  • Food and beverage packaging must meet the highest standards of hygiene. Here, for example, comes the Prepacking Ordinance to wear, which allows the sale of wine in pre-packaged bottles or tetrapacks only within certain capacity ranges.
  • The price must be transparent and declared with the base price. This means that, in addition to the final price, the costs per liter must also be indicated. This base price must be visible at a glance in stationary and online trading.
  • The vineyard must also meet certain criteriato be admitted. Only then can its products be placed on the market. This means that it must already be in a certain growing area or a permit must be applied for.
  • The regulations are even stricter in special cases like the Production of organic wine. In addition to national regulations, EU-wide regulations are also used. Companies associated with the Associations of Winegrowers and Farmers such as the Association of German Wine Cellars Prädikat (VDP), ECOVINBioland, Naturland or Demeter have imposed stricter rules for their members.
  • If you want to sell wine (also) online, use them Distance Selling Policy. For example, it involves particular characteristics regarding the right of withdrawal or shipping costs. In addition, warning-safe legal texts, for example an imprint and general terms and conditions, are required and general regulations for websites and online shops, for example the DSGVO, must be taken into account.
  • The last one is for the Wine trade maybe a concession necessary if you also offer wine for tasting. Further permits or proofs may be mandatory in individual cases.
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This is far from the end of the list of laws that will be relevant to you when starting a wine business. What applies in your case depends on various factors such as the type of wine or the distribution channels. The wine law and the wine ordinance cover the most important regulations in Germany in this regard.

Competent legal advice is therefore recommended when founding a winery from the very beginning, as well as during ongoing business operations. The laws of the federal states, the Federal Republic of Germany and the European Union must be observed.

Step 3: Establish a winery – the basis of independence

If your plans now become more concrete and you want to start your own winery, many topics will also become relevant in this regard. After all, you have to choose and manage the winery correctly to be successful in the long run while maintaining legal compliance.

And of course you are faced with all the steps you need to take as a founder, from the business plan to the financing – you should have thought your business well for that.

Business plan for your winery: You should answer these questions

Location of your cellar: You can't decide freely here – there are clear guidelines for the location of a vineyard so that a good vine can grow. And with the location you also define the type of wine. When making your choice, also consider how customers can reach you, whether there may be other winemakers or even cooperatives in the area that can help you, and what the overall infrastructure is like.

Clients: Especially at the beginning you should try to think about direct marketing. Then analyze precisely:

  • Which target group should be addressed?
  • How can you achieve this?
  • What do you have to offer your customers?

Infrastructure: Transport connections, parking spaces and accesses are an important success factor for your business. Because where they are, there are potential customers.

Rental prices: Flooring is becoming more and more expensive and you also need special flooring. So finding the right plot of land for your vines will be a very important factor in your success.

Here we show you how to write a business plan quickly and effectively with the help of templates: The best business plan tools 2023 to create your business plan.

Wine regions – extra rules

In Germany there are 13 specific wine regions and 26 national wine regions. The production of quality and predicate wine is permitted only in the specific cultivation areas. Although it is also possible to make wine outside these wine regions, it can only be referred to as German wine or wine, formerly also called table wine. It therefore does not have a protected origin, which reduces its value on the market or makes it difficult to place it in fixed retail. However, this disadvantage can be compensated under certain circumstances with the right regional and online marketing and sales.

If you want to start your own winery, you need a suitable vineyard, better in one of the specific wine regions. This requires one high initial investment and it can get difficult due to limited supply. Furthermore, this means having to be flexible with the place, i.e. the winegrower comes to the vineyard and not vice versa. Anyone who brings this flexibility with them has a good chance of securing their own vineyard. There are a variety of options here: You can buy a vineyard and grow it yourself or have it grown by a winemaker. Alternatively, you can purchase a finished cellar and take over ongoing operations. In any case, everyone will find the right business model that fits their individual knowledge and financial capabilities.

The complex theory of grape variety and growing region

But the place where the vineyard is located does not only determine the price to pay. The location is also decisive for the quality of the wines and therefore for the potential income. It is therefore important to carefully choose the vineyard and adapt to the business model. The role played by the vine is at least as important. Cultivation area and grape variety must be in harmony and this is an art in itself. Almost 140 different grape varieties are currently grown in Germany. The white wine clearly dominates. There is therefore a large selection and experimental cultivation is also worth considering to differentiate yourself from the competition. In turn it brings with it legal peculiarities. So again, it depends on your business plan which is the right choice. Depending on the size of the vineyard, different grape varieties and therefore different products can be grown.

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The legal form for your winery

If you become self-employed as a winegrower, you are essentially free to choose the legal form of your company. For example:

  • sole proprietorship,
  • GmbH (limited liability company),
  • Ug (commercial company) or
  • GbR (civil law union).

Before deciding on one, you should weigh all the pros and cons of each legal form and decide which one fits your concept best. An overview of the different legal forms find it here by the way.

Alternative start-up paths: Succession

Building a new viticulture is complex and time consuming. You don't always have to rethink and build your company from scratch. With the succession to an existing winery, you can buy a lot of know-how, existing customers, etc. You can find one here such a follow-up story.

Step 4: The road to your cellar

Once the basic questions have been clarified, the cellar itself can be founded. It mainly functions as a brand under which the products of the vineyard are sold. At the same time, it must offer the necessary conditions that are required, for example, for production or storage. It therefore makes sense to take over an existing cellar so as not to have to build it from scratch. In principle, there are no limits to your possibilities.

You don't work manually: technology in viticulture

In fact, technology now also plays an important role in viticulture. Drones, robots and other advanced technologies are already in use in many vineyards and the trend is increasing. State-of-the-art technology thus improves the quality and profitability of wine production. However, at the same time it requires a high investment and is still not without its problems. It is therefore important to weigh the benefits against the costs and invest only in those machines, IT infrastructure, etc. that bring real added value and pay for themselves.

Step 5: Sales, finance and marketing: wine doesn't sell itself

After all the teething problems have been ironed out and the first wine has been made, these are bare numbers. Only if the winery makes a sufficient profit can it be successful in the long run. In the early years it is still normal to be in the red, but these should quickly turn green. It is therefore important to clarify the financing at an early stage and to realistically calculate when and how the profits will be generated.

This in turn must result in a price per bottle that fits the quality of the wine and the target group. As soon as the product is right, it can go on sale. This requires professional marketing to raise awareness of the new brand and establish the necessary contacts with dealers. Anyone who already has this, for example through previous professional experience, has a clear advantage. If not, it is important to hire competent marketing experts or acquire the necessary knowledge yourself.

Various options are then available for the sale: classic sale through stationary trade, direct sale in the cellar and in the region or that via the Internet. In most cases, a combination of different sales channels makes sense. A holistic approach is therefore the recipe for success for the success of a winery and for establishing it on the market in the long term. This means that all business areas must mesh like clockwork – and that is exactly your job as founder and CEO.

Summary and conclusion

The founding of a winery can be compared very well to the founding of a farm. By far the most important basis is to literally “burn” for the vine and be willing to delve into this complex subject. But even if this basis is there, a little luck is needed, not only in economic matters, because good locations are also in great demand in the approved wine regions. The dream of having your own winery often has to wait a while, but if you don't give up, keep an overview and bring the necessary know-how, this dream is quite realistic.

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