The mechanisation dilemma

Quality producers want their grapes hand-picked – but labour shortages are looming. Caroline Gilby MW looks at the situation in Eastern Europe.

Romania/Credit: Caroline Gilby MW
Romania/Credit: Caroline Gilby MW

Good wine may be made in the vineyard, but it doesn’t happen without human intervention, traditionally done by hand. With an ageing workforce in most of Europe and an increasing reluctance among young people to take on poorly paid, physically hard outdoor jobs, the problem of labour availability is on the minds of many winemakers.

 So far, Western Europe has solved its labour needs by recruiting workers from elsewhere especially Eastern Europe. Phillip Cox of Romanian winery Cramele Recaș estimates that three to four million Romanian citizens work abroad, particularly in Italy and Spain where they are the biggest group of migrant agricultural workers. Significant numbers of migrant workers also come from Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland. This, at least in normal years, has left a significant gap in their home countries, where vineyard labour has become such an issue that there are regular reports of vines left unpicked, or grapes picked too late. This leaves Eastern Europe in need of solutions – with potential lessons for wineries in Western Europe. 

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