What These Wineries Are Doing To Sustain Their Workers

Whatever you believe the reason to be, businesses of all types have struggled to retain workers during the pandemic. 

Many companies have tried different strategies for retaining their workforce, but some in the wine industry have gotten down to brass tacks, prioritizing pay and opportunities for their workers.

Willamette Valley Vineyards is doing just that, recently announcing it was adopting an emergency measure to boost the base wage of all hourly agricultural workers 6.2%. The action takes effect on January 1 and is independent of the company’s annual compensation review in May.

Additionally, the Oregon-based winery in January is phasing in the time-and-a-half for agricultural overtime work that the Washington State Legislature has adopted. The Washington law — and WVV’s new policy — eliminates the overtime exemption and phases in the reduction of minimum hours required to begin receiving overtime pay over three years.

“The rapid rise of inflation is hurting our hourly paid farm employees the most, so we are increasing their compensation effective on January 1,” Willamette Valley Vineyards Founder and CEO Jim Bernau said. 

Willamette Valley Vineyards employs approximately 45 full-time hourly field agricultural workers

ballooning to 135 at harvest. The winery did not use any federal PPP loans or grants during the

Pandemic as Bernau said he believed those limited taxpayer funds should be available to smaller businesses in greater need.

In Texas, Ron Yates, owner of Ron Yates Wines and Spicewood Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country AVA, said paying employees a little bit more to ensure they stay on board has always been a priority of his. 

“Customers will comment on how long some of our employees have been around,” said Yates, noting the value in regulars recognizing familiar faces when they visit the tasting room.

Lost Draw Cellars co-founder Andrew Sides said working to retain employees has continued to be a priority amid hiring challenges that have been apparent in most industries.

“Growth in any business means added personnel in every facet of the business,” he said. “While hiring through labor shortages has its own caveat of challenges, I think the biggest challenge with growth has been making sure we are providing meaningful opportunities for people and nurturing each and every one of them through the process.”

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