‘It’s hard to find any workers’: Island wineries struggle to find pickers for harvest amid labour shortage

'It's hard to find any workers': Island wineries struggle to find pickers for harvest amid labour shortage
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Harvest time is echoing out over vineyards across Vancouver Island, as pinot noirs and sauvignon blanc’s grown during this summer’s record-setting heat are cut from vines by the tonne.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s exceptional. It’s a lot of fun to be here at this time of year,” said Cherry Point Estate Wines employee Jeff Martin.

Island winemakers expect some of their finest wines ever will come out of 2021’s peak heats.

“The quality of the wine in the Cowichan Valley is going to increase drastically,” said the owner of Cherry Point Estate Wines Xavier Bonilla.

Yet a great vintage requires grapes to be picked in time and with this year’s labour shortage, that has become a big problem.

“It’s hard to find any workers this year,” said Martin.

“We’re working against the clock. There’s weather, there’s winemaking, there are other grapes coming in from other growers so usually the faster we can get the job done the better,” said Winery Manager of Blue Grouse Estate Winery’s Micheal Abbott.

The 30 vineyards now harvesting across Vancouver Island have to compete against the many other ‘help wanted’ signs posted amid the labour shortage.

“I’ve been here seven years, and we’ve never had this big of a problem,” said Martin.

As a result of the lack of staff, Rocky Creek Winery in Cobble Hill gave up one of their vineyards this year.

“Maybe 25 per cent drop in production this year we could easily say,” said Linda Holford, owner of Rocky Creek Winery.

In another instance, Chateau Wolff Estate Wines in Nanaimo opted to turn entirely to family and friends this year to harvest because of the lack of workers.

“2021 has been a great harvest, we’ve had such a tremendous outpouring of support from our friends, family and community,” said Matt Riga, owner of Chateau Wolff Estate Winery.

So labourers will be working overtime to harvest ripe grapes off vines before they spoil, with an entire growing season resting in their hands.

2021 promises to be a very good year if the few harvesting it can pull it off in time.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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