Not everyone is as enthralled by the marriage of weed and wine as Laura Burgess is. Vineyard owners in Northern California are losing laborers to marijuana fields during the harvest season, a new report from Wines and Vines found.
“The marijuana pay is much better, and the work is much easier,” Travis Foote, the general manager of Vineyard Logistics, told Wines and Vines. “They pay cash, and people can do the work from home a lot of the time. Marijuana doesn’t require a lot of labor the rest of the year, but when we need workers the most, they need workers the most.”
The vines that Foote is most concerned about are in Mendocino County, which in an area of land dutifully dubbed the “Emerald Triangle” thanks to the proliferation of marijuana fields. With California’s legalization of recreational marijuana on Nov. 8, the demand for the fruits of those fields is expected to grow exponentially.
Issues over labor aren’t unique to Mendocino County, but the fight is felt stronger there than elsewhere. There are 570 vineyards in the county with an average size of 14 acres. The farms are generally smaller, and require hand picking over machine picking due to layout and local preference. But like Foote noted, grape picking is hard work, and you won’t see a bunch of athleisure-wearing California cool kids out in the fields.
Vineyards depend on migrant labor from our neighbors down south. No matter what all those people arguing to build a wall or a fence or whatever say, less Mexicans are coming to the country than ever. In fact, more Mexicans left the U.S. than came to the U.S. since 2008. Thanks, Obama.
Recreational marijuana could chill out the labor problem on its own. It’s already not an issue in bastions of wine like Sonoma and Napa. With more demand, growers will turn to indoor grow ops rather than squirreling away in the mountains of Mendocino. Weed grown indoors is generally higher in THC, can be grown 365, 24/7, and doesn’t require as many temporary workers.
Essentially, the future of marijuana is in huge indoor grow ops like the one that gets blown up at the end of “Pineapple Express,” but without the guns, explosives, and torture room.
Until those pop up, though, everyone will just have to figure out a way to get along. We can think of a few substances that can help make that happen.