The short answer to this question is that independent winemakers struggle to make any money at all, and salaried head winemakers in California tend to make between $80k-100k a year with other key winemaking positions like cellar hands (who do a lot of the actual work) earning $30-40k. Wine Business Monthly puts out surveys to collect all this aggregate salary info in the wine industry.
Now, one of our Angels, Karen, asked a very good question in the comments to another post so I’m going to go into a little more detail.
How much money should a winemaker earn?
“Is it fair to ask what an average Naked Wines winemaker may earn in comparison to his/her colleagues working for the big wine houses? And if they aren’t spending weeks on the road marketing, are they able to have other careers or free time alongside their winemaking for NW? Or do most NW winemakers also still work for the big wine houses?”
I suppose that’s several good questions!
As I replied in the comment section, I’m not going to expose all my friends’ salaries (this is a blog about truth, but it’s not about rudely ostracizing all my friends) but I can shed some light on this subject.
What do our winemakers earn in comparison to colleagues working for the big wine houses?
It’s up to the winemaker. Many choose to keep jobs as cellar hands, consultants, or independent winemakers. And because they don’t need to do much sales or on-the-road marketing, they have plenty of time to have both jobs.
And there’s a lot of synergy between a day job at a winery and a side project. A lot of them have consulting gigs that help them find grapes to go into their own personal wines. These winemakers who just start by dabbling often make something like 20-30k in their first year with Naked. (There are exceptions to this, but it’s very common for the guys who just want to test the waters).
Are our winemakers able to have other careers alongside winemaking?
An interesting trend though… with all these winemakers who start off with Angel-funding as one tool in their belt.
They have the day job, the consulting gig, a few hundred cases under their own name, and then this crazy naked thing. And the first year goes well and they make a cool 25k on a project that took them just a little extra time in the cellar.
And they come back and ask if they can make more wine for us, maybe they cut back on one consulting gig. Next year they make more wine and are suddenly in the 40-50k range with Naked on top of their day job. And then you know what happens the third year?
They find out they can quit their day jobs, all the consulting, drop everything that displeases them and get the exact same income for doing only the parts of their job they love.
Working exclusively with Angel funding is something you CHOOSE to do.
We have a big announcement coming up this year about a winemaker who is making the plunge and ditching his non-Naked work to go exclusively Angel-funded.
We’re very excited because this is proof that we really are creating a better environment for winemakers.
These guys could easily keep multiple winemaking jobs. But time and time again, they choose to take on more Angel wines. Because it’s more fun. It’s what we like to do. And we can let go of all the stuff that we hated — marketing, posturing, positioning, yick.
We never have to ask, “Should we repair the tractor and spend some more time on the trellising, or should we go to this trade fair where we might get a new importer?” We always get to choose quality.
The best place for talented winemakers to work
I hope I’ve answered Karen’s literal questions about how much our winemakers work, their conditions, their side gigs, etc.
But it might make more sense to just say we’re out to create the best place for talented winemakers to work, by…
- Giving them a chance to make the wines they want to make, the way they want to make them
- Allowing them to spend time in the cellar and vineyard making great wines — rather than spending their whole lives on the road selling their wine
- Doing all the boring stuff like government regulation, paperwork, brand registration, etc. for them
- And finally by giving them the opportunity to make a decent living out of it.
What does that mean? Our top winemakers are making $150k-250k a year in comparison to the usual winemaker salary of $80-$100 (and that’s not considering the vast number of indie winemakers out there who are losing their shirts just to keep the business afloat). We wish we could hire them all!
Ryan thank you for your well thought out response to my questions. While I would never be so crass as to ask anyone “how much do you make”? It was my sincere hope that the winemakers at Naked Wines have the opportunity to do better than in the general market. It makes me even more happy with where I am spending my wine dollars.
Most of us as supporters of the Naked Wine business model become very fond of our winemakers, though most of us will only know them through our interactions on the website. We pull for our winemakers, we appreciate them, and don’t want them to struggle financially while providing us with a product that is what some would consider a luxury. (The thought of wine as a luxury will create its own debate or discussion and that’s not where I’m going here; it can as arguably be as much a necessity as any other food consumed).
It just firms in my mind the rightness of the concept brought to life through Naked Wines. I’m glad to know that it is truly a win-win for all of us. And Ryan, thank you again for your blog. I enjoy your writings and the thought provoking musings. Keep it coming!!
[…] banker has just written about exactly how little profit wineries make. Readers recently asked how much money winemakers earn, and I alluded to the fact that independent winemakers don’t make very much money at […]