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mechanical harveserIt has been widely reported that due to the Trump-ordered crackdown on undocumented workers and the climate of fear it generates, wineries will have a tough time hiring enough workers during harvest to bring in the grape crop.  We all know what the real reason is for this crackdown but the stated reason is that it will protect American jobs.

Ain’t gonna happen.

I’ve talked to several winemakers recently about this issue, and the common response is that if they can’t get vineyard workers with the experience to do the job they will have to use more machines in the vineyard—mechanical pruning or pre-pruning, mechanical shoot thinning,  and mechanical harvesting. In the early days, vineyard mechanization was associated with low quality as the old harvesters beat up the fruit and the vines. Damaged fruit begins to oxidize immediately compromising wine quality even before the grapes make it to the winery.

But the technology has rapidly improved and today’s technology cuts a much more gentle path through the vineyard.  Most quality, artisan producers would prefer to use human labor because pruning and some harvesting methods require skill and judgment. But they will be forced to mechanize despite their preferences. Once that investment in equipment is made those jobs will be gone forever.

What seems manifestly unlikely is that hordes of skilled Anglo-Saxon pickers and pruners will leave the unemployment line and swarm into the vineyards just before the fall rains intensify.

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