All For One and One For All

Troon team members with their diplomas after completing the Equitable Food Initiative training.##Photo PROVIDED

By Barbara Barrielle

While filming a documentary on wine country wildfires and climate change, I spoke with Paul Draper, winemaker at Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello and Lytton Springs in California. He shared a concept, new to me, about “workplace” or “worker” sustainability. Although Draper has long been known as a leader in sustainability, I was surprised when he revealed the most important part of his sustainability efforts is workforce-centered.

I was struck by this simple, yet powerful idea of supporting your workforce for the good of the organization. Promoting staff interests, building positive relationships and fostering loyalty all contribute to success. Knowing the vineyards and winemaking process is vitally important year after year. Taking care of the people who touch the earth, vines and juice is a winery’s greatest asset, especially when weather, drought and fire conditions present annual challenges.

Some wineries lead by example, whether it is a part of the corporate culture or a reaction to changes in both the physical and emotional work environment in flux from the coronavirus pandemic and other conditions beyond our control.

The Social Fairness Directive of Regenerative Organic Certification

In Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley, Troon Vineyard’s General Manager and winemaker Craig Camp jumped at the opportunity to speak about their approach to workplace sustainability. “Social fairness is of great concern and focus for us; one of the three pillars of the Regenerative Organic Certified,™ or ROC, project and certification,” says Camp. “Last year, Troon achieved the silver level of the ROC certification, which includes social fairness interviews by our inspector with members of our team. In fact, it’s required. We are nearly finished with the gold level ROC requirements, which involves certification of worker sustainability by the Equitable Food Initiative.”

The process, rigorous, stringent and deliberately challenging, includes developing and training staff on agricultural, viticultural, winemaking and management.

These extensive educational and training sessions include discussions about communications, worker safety, and inclusive decisionmaking. “After months of preparation, Troon is awaiting our onsite inspection and private staff interviews. These verify the winery has achieved the required standards of providing a positive and safe environment for all team members at Troon,” explains Camp. “To the best of my knowledge, every business seeking to achieve ROC certification, or B Corp status, must go through a similar process. I believe only Paso Robles’ Tablas Creek and Troon have qualified for ROC’s gold level.”

Perks of all sizes are appreciated

Ken Wright Cellars, based in Carlton, has retained winery employees for more than 20 years. Ken Wright credits such longevity, in part, on focusing beyond the workplace. The team eats lunch together and conversations center on children, hobbies, travel and challenges outside the winery. While local restaurants now provide the meals, Kathy, Wright’s wife, prepared the shared meal for 15 years.

Wright also believes in self-care: paying for all employee health care deductibles and insisting all take five weeks of annual vacation— as is the norm in Europe. “After a rigorous harvest and long days of open houses, it’s important that my employees recharge,” says Wright. “We have a huge party complete with oysters, foie gras and king crab legs. I then close the winery for two weeks over the holidays. I’m the only one who checks in on things during that time.”

Look after your people and they’ll look after you

At Brooks Wine in Eola-Amity Hills, General Manager Janie Brooks Heuck says, “We wouldn’t be able to make a difference in the world were it not for our workers and our customers. We place their well-being at the heart of our business choices.”

“With the exception of a few students, working part-time, all staff are paid a living wage, 50 percent higher than minimum wage. Brooks covers 100 percent of health, dental, and vision insurance premiums for full-time team members and offers 401k plans with a match. Brooks also encourages personal development by supporting professional growth and training initiatives,” explains Heuck.

Brooks business operations include winemaking, food service in their popular restaurant and a working farm. Heuck takes the time to regularly acknowledge her staff in winery newsletters.

Volunteering and personal care

Sarah Pearson, CEO at Dobbes Family Estate and Wine By Joe, leads a growing company of progressive thinkers. “We’re celebrating our 20-year anniversary by focusing on ‘People, Purpose and Progress,’” she says. Pearson is building a positive work culture that celebrates each individual while learning and developing together. We guide our employees through clearly outlined development plans and offer learning opportunities including competitive tastings, WSET and college courses.

Dobbes encourages volunteering by offering employees two days off to support important causes. They also offer company volunteering opportunities to work with organizations including Habitat for Humanity. Full-time employees receive full medical and dental benefits, access to 401k accounts and paid education opportunities. Monthly community care days include perks like massages at work.

Bathrooms and respect for all

Remy Drabkin, owner of Remy Wines, is known for her leadership in the LGBTQIA+ movement, specifically events hosted by her nonprofit Wine Country Pride. Early in the pandemic, she began each day by leading her staff through daily meditation and breathing exercises over Zoom. The health and spirit of her employees is abundantly obvious.

Remy demonstrated her commitment to and including all with a multi-gender bathroom in her new winery facility. With a second door opening directly to the vineyard, her vineyard crew have easy access to indoor plumbing and hot water.

All these wineries have demonstrated how little it takes to create a happy, sustainable workplace that supports people in their quest to make— and market— excellent wines.

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