You can opt for the winemaker’s path, where you’ll become an expert on a rather narrow scope of wines but develop an intimate working knowledge of all the winemaker’s tricks (whether you use them or not), as well as the minutiae of the grapes you work with, local yeasts, possible wine contaminants, and, of course, your terroir, whether you have one or not. I will say that -- for the most part -- winemakers are the coolest, most down-to-earth, straight-shooting people in all of winedom. Unlike so many who have some imagined turf to protect, winemakers just want you to love wine -- preferably theirs, but almost to a man or woman they really do seem to grasp the fact that not everyone loves everything. They also seem to understand that the more wine -- any wine, that is -- that consumers drink, the more wine they will buy. I heart winemakers. I particularly heart getting drunk with winemakers, when the stories flow without hesitation!
Of course, winemaking takes hard work, dirty hands, manual labor, and a personality that has to be able to derive satisfaction from the inevitable failures as well as the successes. Other options do exist, though. There are myriad wine education programs that can prepare one for a satisfying (or soul-crushing) life as a wine retailer, educator, sommelier, self-published author, or the Holy Grail of winedom: a Master of Wine. While all of these paths are almost certain to push you into the 99th percentile (and let’s be honest, Masters of Wine do know more about wine than anyone else), there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually be able to help that other 99% of folks who are looking for some assistance.
In fact, the truth is that once people get up to these “heights,” they tend to look down on those underneath them. I’ll go ahead and exclude Masters of Wine, most winemakers, some sommeliers I like, and a few really kicking retailers, as well. Okay, this is a broad brush, I know, but it’s my rant, so please allow me the liberty.