Though the wine industry may not be the most typical career path for chemical engineers, the unique expertise that engineers possess is a vital component of the winemaking process.
At first glance, winemaking may seem like a far-fetched vocation for a newly qualified chemical engineer to pursue. Traditionally, chemical engineer roles are typically in large-scale industries such as manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, design and construction, petrochemicals, and food processing, among others.
However, the global wine industry is set to be worth $423.59bn by 2023, with the British wine industry being one of the fastest-growing in the world. As winemaking technologies and techniques continue to improve, the role of chemical engineers in the wine industry will be increasingly prominent. Here’s why.
Why are chemical engineers needed in winemaking?
The skills picked up in a chemical engineering degree or working as an engineer in another field are tailor-made for the wine industry.
Aside from employing the scientific principles of chemistry and engineering, winemaking also requires the day-to-day problem-solving skills of engineers, as well as their ability to effectively manage teams or projects. Perhaps most importantly, learning to be meticulous and uncompromising is important for ensuring the end-to-end success of the winemaking process.
Fruit wine production is one such area that requires the skills of chemical engineers. Unlike in grape winemaking, it is difficult to extract soluble components from the pulp of a fruit. Fruit winemaking also involves different concentrations of sugars and organic acids. By employing chemical engineering techniques and knowledge-based control strategies, these obstacles can be overcome.
Emergent technologies such as pulsed electric fields (PEF) and ultrasound (US) treatment have been shown to optimise the extraction process, as has the application of microwave technology. Other techniques such as membrane separation have proven indispensable to the wine industry, while membrane bioreactor (MBR) technology has long been applied to the production of aromatic compounds and flavour and stabiliser molecules. Modern wineries also deploy various effective preservation processes such as high hydrostatic pressure (HHP) treatment.
Finally, chemical engineers are needed in large-scale wineries to oversee solutions to technical problems in a safe and economical manner.
How to enter the wine industry as a chemical engineer
A degree in chemical engineering provides graduates with a host of transferable skills, so most chemical engineers who enter the wine industry have prior engineering experience in another sector.
For those without chemical engineer experience, the best route into the industry is to work at a macro wine producer as a summer intern while studying. Such relevant experience may give prospective candidates the edge over other graduates, particularly as they will already be attuned to the processes, workflows and products at a large winery. Taking classes in horticulture, microbiology and food sanitation can also help.
Winemaking is a fascinating profession with endless opportunities for relocation, creativity and career progression. For ambitious chemical engineers looking to expand their skill set in a fast-moving and exciting sector, look no further than the wine industry.
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