What is Enology?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Enology, also seen spelled as oeonology, is the study of wines and wine making, from the moment vines are planted to the best way to store wine bottles for long cellaring. A student of enology is known as an enologist, and enologists run the gamut from consulting professors to active winemakers. Someone who happens to be a fan of the end product of the wine making process could be said to be an enophile.

A sommelier showing a bottle of wine to a customer.
A sommelier showing a bottle of wine to a customer.

As a discipline, enology is quite ancient. Humans have been making wines for thousands of years, and people have been documenting the process right along with them. The extensive written and graphical record of the world's winemaking history exists thanks to the efforts of enologists, who also worked to improve the product as well. A high quality modern Syrah, for example, is worlds away from the watered wine drunk in Ancient Greece.

Glasses of white wine.
Glasses of white wine.

The field of enology is incredibly complex, since it covers a multitude of fields, starting with viticulture. Viticulture is a branch of horticulture which focuses specifically on grape cultivation. When the grapes are wine grapes, viticulture is sometimes also known as viniculture. The type of grapes, their growing environment, the weather, and many other factors have immense influence over the final product. Since wine grapes represent a serious investment, viniculture specialists can command a high price for their consulting services.

Once the grapes are harvested and the viniculture process is over, the grapes still must be taken through a variety of steps to make wine. An enologist is familiar with each step, from the crush to prolonged aging. Since each step in the wine making process has a number of variations and divergent outcomes, many enologists spend a great deal of time calculating the difference that a small change might make. All sorts of things influence wine from the type of barrel used to what time of day the grapes are picked, and finding the magic combination of grapes and handling can yield an award winning wine.

In addition to being concerned with the winemaking process, an enologist may be interested in wine culture in general. Wine, especially fine wine, is accompanied by a unique sociocultural world all of its own which includes judging contests, training for sommeliers, enologists who focus on finished wines, and various events, often culinary, focused on wine. Being steeped in the complexities of wine culture can be a very interesting experience for anthropologists as well as enologists.

Some — but not all — wine is aged in barrels.
Some — but not all — wine is aged in barrels.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I've taken a couple of courses at our local enology school. Not anything really in depth, just a sort of "guide to the wine guide" style course and a tasting course, as well as a weekend among the vines which I suspect was more about the free labor than anything!

It's been so much fun though. You meet a wide variety of people and, although some of them I found a bit snobbish, others were just there for a bit of a laugh.

And, of course, with a tasting class, you all get to know each other a bit better!


@KoiwiGal - Actually I think if you are willing to live in quite far out areas, or to be hired by someone who is just starting out themselves, you might get lucky with a job in the wine industry.

Because it really is a complex task. People think it just involves gathering up some grapes for juice and then locking it into barrels for a few months.

In fact there are so many different factors you have to take into account. And if you get any of them wrong, you can write off your production for the year.

Plus, a small vineyard probably won't be raking in money, so I don't know if I would recommend it to a beginner as a viable career choice, unless they were very, very passionate.

And even then, if they were so passionate, why not try to find a job, or get a degree first?


There are so many people who want to work with wines, you really do have to have a degree in order to get a job in that field now.

The only other way in seems to be through picking grapes. If you get lucky, you might be able to make friends with the vintner, but how likely is that? Even just a short course in enology isn't really enough. You'll be competing with people who have masters degrees.

On the other hand, you can always start your own small vineyard and see how it turns out!

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