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Keeping Up With Competition: California Wine Industry Facing New Challenges

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Wine grape growers are used to dealing with all kinds of obstacles — from droughts to floods and fires —but now they're facing some new challenges.

Wine sales are flat. It's a topic on the minds of many industry professionals.

"Like many industries we have cycles and right now we're in a down cycle," John Aguirre, President of the California Association of Wine Grape Growers, said. "There are some considerable challenges."

One of the biggest challenges is growing competition from other alcoholic beverages.

Nichola Hall is the co-chair of the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium. She said the "adult beverage marketplace is a very crowded marketplace."

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According to Aguirre, wineries are competing with distilled spirits, beer, and the increasingly popular hard seltzers — drinks that are easy to take on-the-go. It's something that's got wineries taking notice.

"To combat that, we do have wine in cans," Hall said.  Aguirre called the move to convenience packaging exciting.

Another industry problem is hiring enough people.

"There's some regions in the state that struggle to find enough workers for harvest," Aguirre said.

Low unemployment numbers and concerns over immigration policies have created plenty of job vacancies in the field.

"We're really having to work harder today to recruit those workers," Aguirre said.

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Growers are also lobbying lawmakers to improve the nation's immigrant guest worker program.

"Congress is, in fact, now considering a bill to do just that," Aguirre said.

With technology changing, highly skilled workers are also in high demand. That's where places like UC Davis' specialized wine study program come in.

"The industry is investing in education, recruiting to deal with labor issues in the winery as well as the vineyard," Aguirre said. "But we do have the advantage of, it's California, it's sunshine, it's wine, a lot of people are attracted to that."

Grapes are California's second-largest agricultural commodity, contributing more than $50 billion to the economy each year.

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