Vineyards struggle at harvest with labor squeeze, competitive pay

MEDFORD, Ore.- It’s harvest season at Rogue Valley’s vineyards but workers are hard to find.  With many hemp and cannabis businesses paying more and an employment squeeze across all industries, some wineries are getting creative to get their grapes.

“It has to be done. So we did it.”

At Hummingbird Estate in Central Point, General Manager Kristina Alvarez has gotten much more hands on with this grape harvest.

“We handled the logistics of it once it was off the vine- a whole lot more than we ever have,” she explained. She says harvest labor is hard to find and if it’s out there, they are being outbid.  It’s reflected at the Estate.

“Even last year, with hemp moving into the valley, our rates went up because labor got more competitive,” Alvarez said. The Hummingbird Estate isn’t alone- many of the vineyards NBC5 News spoke to said they are facing the same issues.

Some are attempting to match the high pay being offered at hemp and cannabis farms or keeping workers on a sliding scale that reflects demand.  But most are taking matters into their own hands. One winery owner was even in the fields picking grapes herself when NBC5 called.

“Everybody’s going to have to do a little bit more to account for fewer hours from others and fewer bodies to actually do the labor,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez says at their estate, they are taking on the hauling of the grapes so their vineyard managing group can focus on finding crews for the field itself.

“We got the truck, we got the trailer, instead of them spending the time finding a guy to bring it all out here.”

But her husband’s construction company gave her a leg up. She admits its saved her a lot of up front costs, that other wineries may be facing.

“If I didn’t have that advantage, there’s no way we could have invested in trucks, trailers, bobcat, forks, all that quickly,” she said.

Alvarez says affordable housing is also playing a part in the scarcity of labor in the valley. In her words, if you can’t live somewhere, you can’t work there.

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Grace Smith
Grace Smith is co-anchor for NBC5 News at 6. The Chicago native is a recent graduate of University of Miami with a Communication Honors degree specializing in Broadcast Journalism. She minored in Creative Writing and focused her senior thesis on social media usage and engagement. During her time at the University of Miami, she anchored multiple award-winning student television programs, covering everything from music festivals to the Super Bowl. Though she loved Miami's beaches, she's thrilled to be in the Pacific Northwest where she can experience all four seasons and have a real Christmas tree! When she’s not at work, you can find Grace glued to any television showing live sports (especially if it's the Chicago Bears) or attempting a new recipe as she learns to cook.
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