Now Is the Best Time to Get Into the Wine Industry in Decades

This moment, right now, is the best time to find a job in the wine industry that I’ve witnessed in more than 30 years.

Job seekers looking to break into the wine industry will find wineries across the West Coast desperate to hire, particularly in the hospitality realm. A perusal of the site one can find a host of wineries offering signing bonuses, lowered qualifications, higher per hour pay, more jobs that come with benefits, but most of all, more jobs to be had.

The state of the wine industry job market is portrayed best by the “Winery Job Index”. The Index, which measures job openings at wineries, showed the index up 334% against April 2020 and 25% above 2019. The Index’s DtC/TastingRoom/Retail category of job openings in April 2021 was up and unfathomable 3,571% over April 2020

Yes, it’s true that April 2020 was the height of the COVID Pandemic and a month that had wineries closing their doors. It was a jobapacolypse as people closeted themselves inside in the face of lockdowns, wineries had no on-property customers and were forced to lay off hospitality workers, and the various wine country regions were deserted almost entirely of visitors. 

A lot has changed obviously that has led to so many jobs being available, not the least of which is the modern miracle of the COVID vaccines and the re-opening of tasting rooms again along with the return of visitors feeling safe and sound in the wake of having been jabbed once or twice by the needle.

But still, it appears that the number of jobs available in the wine industry are not being filled. There is a certain desperation among those looking to hire, particularly those wineries that need front-of-the-house folks to greet the new hordes of people dying to get out of their homes and let the good times roll in wine country and elsewhere. This is why if you look at some of the jobs being listed at you’ll note some are offering signing bonuses between $400 and $2000. You’ll find higher than normal hourly pay rates. You’ll find lower qualifications required for many jobs. And you’ll find many more benefits like 401Ks, more paid time off, and commute compensation than you ever saw before the pandemic.

So, what’s with the lack of applicants for wine industry jobs?

It’s a perfect storm of reasons. But the key here is that this storm will pass and the kinds of incentives we are currently seeing being offered likely won’t be there in 3 or 4 months.

It’s important to keep in mind that while about 50% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, that leaves about 50% that have not been jabbed yet and this still puts fear in some people’s hearts. On top of this, despite some states now cutting back on unemployment benefits, there are still a decent amount of unemployment benefits out there that deter some folks from hitting the pavement and looking for jobs. We also have anecdotal evidence of a number of folks in the hospitality industry (restaurant and tasting room) who took advantage of the Pandemic to find work in another industry that might pay more, deliver better or most stable hours or that is less demanding. Finally, kids are still in school. This means a number of parents who might be more than willing to take these jobs in the wine industry remain at home school teachers and are unable to commit to full-time work.

But as I mention, this moment will pass. Vaccination rates will easily created herd immunity by August. By September, kids will be back in school freeing up the heroic parents that spent a year attempting to re-learn New Math. By mid-June, a swath of new graduates will be hitting the pavement looking for work. And the COVID-related unemployment benefits will end by the end of August. All these things will help the job market find equilibrium.

It’s worth reminding that as the job market comes back to equilibrium, the current and unusual incentives being offered by wine-related companies will go away. Don’t count on signing bonuses in September. Don’t count on increasing hourly rates in September. Don’t count on the increased job benefits in September. 

This makes this moment, right now, the best time in decades to get into the wine industry. At this moment, you can probably find work in the wine industry without significant experience or a certification of some sort. This is it. Right now is the magic moment for wine industry entry that you will not see again for a very long time, if ever.

Posted In: Wine Business


7 Responses

  1. Johnny B. - June 3, 2021

    Would love see a report on the pay rates of these DTC/Sales/Hospitality positions versus the cost of living in Wine Country.

    … may not be so great of a time to enter the industry after all..

  2. Tom Wark - June 3, 2021


    It’s undoubtedly an issue. We moved from Napa to Oregon almost entirely due to that issue. That said, the jobs are everywhere. One could look around for those wine regions where the cost of living is less. Oregon, Walla Walla. Finger Lakes, Michigan, etc.

  3. Jason - June 3, 2021

    Wow, Oregon is cheaper than California? I didn’t find that to be the case myself. At least in the Yamhill-Carlton area. Had to sleep in a tent for harvest. Couldn’t find anywhere that would do a monthly lease, or even a 3-month lease. Couldn’t even find a hotel that would do weekly rates.

  4. Tom wark - June 3, 2021

    We lived in Napa and wanted to buy. But what we wanted would have easily have cost 2.5 mil. Got it for under $500k in Salem.

  5. Peter Fingus - June 3, 2021

    Right?! Things are crazy. I wanted to work in a vineyard in southern California by Malibu. Tried to buy a 6 bed/5 bath on the beach. You should see those prices!!! How is anyone supposed to work in the heart of a really nice area without paying for it??? This is what’s wrong with the wine industry.

  6. Ken Volk - June 17, 2021

    Hey Tom,
    It is certainly better employment opportunities than last year, however I disagree.Based on many of the other comments I’m certainly not alone. There are few head of household positions available in the industry in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties and many parts of California.
    Yes there tasting room positions, temporary harvest gigs,commision only sales positions. However the cost of living is so high many experienced industry professionals have gone on to other more stable industries for more money, benefits and security. Looking at some of the job postings you have listed. Do you feel the pay scale of those positions would float a families living expenses to live with in 30 miles of the work location ? Or even a couple both employed in the wine industry? Historically the wine industry has done it’s best in prosperous
    economy and with exception of the top of the pyramid most people are struggling.
    I hope I’m wrong but it seems the golden days of the Cali wine industry careers are history.

  7. Vanessa Hadick - June 25, 2021

    Jason – what you’re describing is in large part driven by the housing undersupply issue we have here in Yamhill County, which is a major problem. There just isn’t enough inventory of short term rentals, or long term apartments, or other types of housing that is so necessary in a hospitality-driven tourism region. That was true before covid, even more exacerbated now.

    Living in Oregon is infinitely less expensive than living in California. Then again, it’s all relative, and the cost of living in California varies SO widely location by location. I used to live in a shared flat in San Francisco in the late naughts/early teens, so that’s my relativity. I chuckle to myself with each mortgage payment on my home in the Willamette Valley, while thinking about my SF rent used to be! 🙂

    Tom – with all due respect, I have to disagree. On a few points. TR staff had been in short supply even pre-covid, years before, it’s just been exacerbated by covid when so many in hospitality were laid off overnight. The motivation for wineries to offer sign-on bonuses smells like it’s simply because they need the seasonal TR staff, and they need those bodies NOW. Summer has already arrived. They won’t need the staff so desperately come September, as summer travel ends and the shoulder season begins…but come next Spring, the cycle starts all over again and the summer staffing season starts in March. It happens evverrrry year.

    Hmmmm…so much to ponder!

    (Let’s also not forget that $250-$1K is, like, one extra case of wine sold. Ha. The new TR staff pays for themselves Day 1. What I’m curious about is do these sign-on bonuses come with an increased wage, or is the sign-on just an easy excuse not to have to commit to a heightened hourly wage?)

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