Home HR & Staffing Wine Industry Needs to Ramp Up Recruitment in Competitive Job Market

Wine Industry Needs to Ramp Up Recruitment in Competitive Job Market

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HR experts discuss key techniques to recruiting and maintaining a strong wine business team.

Melanie Young

Building a strong workforce is essential for many industries, including wine, especially with employees re-evaluating their lives and career priorities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cost of living, health care, childcare, and flexible hours are key concerns along with adequate compensation.

In areas with high cost-of-living, like California, jobs in finance, accounting and technology remain harder to fill inside the wine industry. Candidates have more options in other industries that provide higher pay rate and employee benefits.

Wine companies need to stay competitive to attract talent.

The wine industry employed 47,684 in 2021, with wages the second-largest cost to businesses, according to research company IBISWorld. And the average number of employees per establishment is projected to increase over the next five years.

 “The wine industry has a misguided view that it is unique and special, but it is not dramatically different from other businesses. The glory of working in wine is not enough. Companies must have a strategic initiative in place to invest in their people, not just in dollars and benefits, but in career development,” says executive human resource consultant, Joel Miller, of Chateau HR LLC, in Healdsburg, Calif. “This includes coaching, leadership training, effective communications, employee surveys to stay in tune with your workforce, and building a feeling of mutual trust.”

LEADERSHIP blue and white hand-drawn sketch notes on blackboard

Effective Recruiting

Networking, job fairs, LinkedIn and Indeed.com remain top choices for recruiters looking for talent. Other resources include: WineIndustry.jobs, BevForce, recruiting through wine schools, trade schools and community colleges, and professional organizations like Women of the Vine and Association of African American Vintners.

But executive recruiters recommend widening the search beyond the wine industry itself. “Think about what the candidate is doing, not just whether this person has ‘wine experience,’” advises Amy Gardner, owner of WineTalent, an executive search firm in Sacramento.

While many companies offer signing bonuses for new hires, others consider this a short-term fix. “Alternatively, this may cause some issues with existing employees who have been shouldering the work and may cause more turnover,” says Gardner.

Another successful approach for companies, such as Folio Fine Wine Partners and Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, is an employee referral bonus program that incentivizes and rewards current employees for introducing new team members.

Cultivating talent from within is another smart strategy that helps employees realize their potential. “Delicato Vineyards’ on-the-job training includes a robust curriculum with three certification tracks for employees to choose from. Each has a core set of classes with electives, allowing employees to customize their learning experience. Classes range from computer skills to public speaking and leadership,” says Emily Ingram, executive vice president of human resources at Delicato Family Wines.

Rethinking “Essentials”

While competitive salaries, health insurance, paid holidays and vacation, and 401K programs all remain important, other benefits, once considered “enhancements,” are becoming “essentials” to retain and cultivate a workforce. Examples include flexible hours, remote work options, generous paid parental leave, tuition reimbursement, and coaching programs.

“Delicato Vineyards (1100 employees) conducts an annual review of benefits and compensation programs including improvements to maternity/paternity leave, paid time off, tuition reimbursement and paid holidays. We have also revised our telecommuting options to offer even more flexibility,” says Ingram.

Delicato Team Photo
Delicato Family Wines team photo

One area many companies fall short is sufficiently onboarding new hires. Evaluating candidates is only one step in the process—training them to be successful in their new position is an ongoing effort. “People are our most valuable resource,” says Chateau HR’s Miller. “A lot of work needs to be done on people management. It takes a big investment of time and money.”

This applies to companies of all sizes. Demeine Estates, a Napa Valley-based négociant of fine wines with 15 employees and growing, has an onboarding program led by Rayna Baker, head of employee experience. The program includes personal meetings with managing partner and master sommelier Carlton McCoy Jr. as well as winemakers and estate directors in order to reinforce the business-to-business connection and become more immersed in the company’s vision, mission, and goals.

Effective Communications

Employee communications and transparency further develop a supportive corporate culture and provide employees with a way to engage with senior management and feel valued.

Folio Fine Wine Partners (68 employees) holds monthly company-wide Zoom meetings and, just this past year, launched an employee survey to gauge the team’s sentiment across many areas: work/life balance, work-place engagement, alignment to the company’s mission and vision, and other topics. “The results have helped us identify key action items for the future of Folio,” says Christine Lintz, the company’s human resources director.

Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits offers “Lunch and Learn” also conducts an annual in-depth survey of its 350 employees, noting in an email that “83 percent of employees are very engaged, and 97 percent are proud to work for DFS…. Attracting, retaining, and inspiring talent—especially in a tight labor market—is much easier when our colleagues feel challenged, inspired and appreciated, and are growing in their roles.”  

Creating a Pipeline to Diversity

Delicato Family Wines Inaugural BIPOC Winemaking Scholarship recipient Cal Poly Student Mercy Torres
Delicato Family Wines Inaugural BIPOC Winemaking Scholarship recipient Cal Poly Student Mercy Torres

Establishing a corporate culture of diversity, equality and inclusivity goes beyond hiring someone with a DEI title. Actions make the difference. “Pipelining to find candidates is important to build proactive relationships and create awareness that your company is hiring and focused on diversity. Think outside the wine industry to cast a wider net. For example, reach out to historically Black colleges and universities,” says Gardner. 

It also takes focused initiatives and collaborative relationships with affinity organizations to foster diversity. Delicato Family Wines recently awarded two Cal-Poly students its first ever BIPOC Winemaker scholarships. And its Delicato Women’s Leadership Initiative provides employees with networking and educational opportunities.

Still the Best Place To Work

Wine producers are still recovering from the hit they took when restaurants and tasting rooms closed, but optimism prevails to move business forward in this tight-knit community. “It is a tough time in the hospitality industry, but there is positivity at the end of the tunnel,” says Philana Bouvier, president of Demeine Estates. “The good news is the wine industry is still the best place to work.”

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Melanie Young produces and hosts The Connected Table Live and The Connected Table Sips podcasts featuring conversations with global thought leaders in wine, food, spirits, and hospitality, and Fearless Fabulous You, a lifestyle show for women. The Connected Table LIVE is ranked #4 in Feedspot’s Top Food & Drink Podcasts for 2021. Her articles on wine and spirits and the business of wine have been published in Wine Enthusiast, Wine4Food and Seven Fifty Daily. Her food articles appear in Santé Magazine. For 20 years she ran M Young Communications, a culinary marketing and events agency in New York, and advised many global wine organizations and businesses. During that time, she was responsible for the launch and management of The James Beard Foundation Awards, serving as the Director for 16 years. Melanie is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, the Wine Media Guild and Women of the Vine & Spirits.  

Website: www.theconnectedtable.com | IG: @theconnectedtable | TW: @connectedtable

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