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California vineyards are ready for harvest -- but who'll pick the grapes?

Wineries running low on workers
Wineries running low on workers 02:07

Labor Day is typically one of the busiest days of the year at the V. Sattui winery in St. Helena, California. But while plenty of people want to buy the wine, the winery's problem is getting enough people to make it.

In the current tight labor market, winemakers say they're facing special challenges, KPIX reports. They need skilled, efficient, reliable workers who can show up, ready to pick, when nature dictates. But since these jobs last for only the six- to eight-week harvest season, it's no surprise that workers might be tempted by steadier work elsewhere.

With other sectors, like construction, in dire need of workers, people used to picking grapes now have other options. Especially as rebuilding ramps up after last year's wildfires, the wineries are facing competition from the construction industry, said labor analysts.

"The whole rebuilding of the Napa Sonoma economy is moving workers away from farm work into these better-paying construction jobs," said Michael Bernick, former director of the California Labor Department.

There's a construction worker shortage across the country 01:40

V. Sattui is trying to compete by giving workers a better deal. The winery has been offering two raises a year instead of one, which has increased its labor costs 30 percent over the past five years.

"It's not a pleasant experience when your crew walks off the job because someone else offered them a dollar more an hour," said Brooks Painter, director of winemaking.

The situation is affecting not only the price of wine, but the type of wines that are actually being produced. A field of Zinfandel grapes was recently replaced with Cabernet vines at the vineyard simply for economic reasons. Cabernet grapes fetch a much higher price than Zinfandel, the winery said, and more vintners are planting them to offset their costs. That means the varieties many people love may eventually become harder to find.

"It's just a really difficult situation," said Tom Davies, the winery's president. "If our costs keep increasing and we can't increase our prices … it's a recipe that could really hurt the future of our industry."

Other winemakers say hope lies in mechanical harvesting of their grapes. While it's not as precise, they say it does eliminate the uncertainty of the labor market.

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