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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Coming Wine Industry Labor Shortage

The U.S. economy is gaining steam although the growth isn't equal across all job categories, of course. The wine industry is in a boom phase and doesn't know where its future workers are going to come from.

You can see the problems coming with the current grape harvest. In the autumn a large bump in staffing is required to process the wine grapes. 

Getting these temporary employees, from the U.S. and overseas, hasn't been a problem until this year. Almost everyone I know is operating with too few workers. There are just too many other opportunities for people. Those wanting to learn the wine industry are coming, but those just looking for a job are not.

Harvesting Pinot Noir
Image from

Washington state expects a record-size grape harvest this year and it's not just the temporary harvest workers they need. There's a shortage of skilled, experienced workers in wineries and vineyards. There is a shortage of people with degrees in wine-related fields.

Some of this has to do with U.S. immigration laws as vineyard work has traditionally relied on migrant labor from Mexico. This is true for all American agriculture. Now Mexico's own booming ag business is importing their own farm laborers from south of their own border.

Winery work includes production, admin, and hospitality. The hospitality side is made up people willing to put up with the relatively low wages in exchange for the "wine lifestyle." Many are fresh out of college; many are older workers.

The number of wineries in the U.S. has increased dramatically in the last decade or two. Today there are over 8,000 wineries with much of the growth outside of the West Coast. Most are small, but all require someone to make the wine, sell the wine, and pay the bills.

An Oklahoma Winery
How many people in Oklahoma are properly trained to grow, 
make and sell wine?
Image from