“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.