MW Topic of the Week - LABOR

Hi guys,

This time, let's focus on one specific question.

From the 2017 exam:

Labour supply for vineyard work is decreasing in many parts of the world. If this trend continues, how will this affect viticulture, and how can vineyard managers around the world best prepare for, and handle, a shortage of workers? 

Excited to hear everyone's thoughts!


Kelli, , Sarah Bray

  • Hi Kelli, this is a great question. We have certainly heard tales of labor shortages in California and Oregon. A winemaker in Lebanon told me it is becoming an issue for them because many of the Syrian refugees who were willing to work in the vineyards have now returned home. 

    I spent the spring and summer working in a couple of estate old vine vineyards this year and realized there is a lot more time involved outside of pruning, shoot positioning, and picking. 

    Here is my quick and dirty 10 minute brainstorm outline/mindmap (I am not including examples because of the public nature of this forum)

    How will the trend affect viticulture?

    -Lower quality (can't do what they want when they want to)

    -Increase precision (usage of sensors, satellite imagery now highly desirable)

    -Improve quality of life and sustainability to ensure future quality (invest in workers by paying living wage, offering benefits, training)

    -Less organics (systemic fungicides, fertilizers less labor intensive than spray and leaf removal)

    -Lose old vines (replant for ease of work and financial viability to increase tons/acre by increasing vineyard density)

    How can vineyard managers prepare and handle a labor shortage?

    -Train and invest in a team of full-time workers or outsource some duties to a vineyard management company that does (small and large operations)

    -Sucker, shoot thin, drop extra clusters early (for ease and speed)

    -Re-evaluate vineyard protocols such as hedging (unnecessary?)

    -Plant cover crop to reduce need for fertilizer, reduce need for weeding, improve soil and vine health to require fewer soil treatments (also encourage natural pest deterrents) Make nature work for you.

    -Plant clover under vines to reduce need for hand weeding or chemical applications under rows

    -Configure any new vineyards for ease of automation and machine access 

    Time's up. What did I miss???

  • I just came back to this and re-read it and realize I should have included precision viticulture techniques (sensors, etc) in the second set, as well, to balance vigor throughout the vineyard, thereby reducing labor hours. I suppose I will be waking with new thoughts all night. 

  • Ah, I should also include that it would be extremely beneficial to establish a network of managers of similarly sized vineyards so they may each lend a hand, if needed, and share knowledge and experiences.

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