The same refrain can be heard from other vintners concerned that even if any quality diminution is slight, it would undermine their efforts to make the best possible wines.
Jason Kesner, vineyard manager at Hudson Vineyard in Carneros, picks his 180 acres of mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at night and by hand because that's what Patz & Hall, Kistler and the other winemakers who buy the fruit want, he says.
The only way he thinks he can ensure he has enough workers next year to deliver the fruit his customers want is with full-time crews. Last year, he gave his workers an across-the-board 12% raise to discourage them from leaving to work for another grower. Hudson Vineyard bought an apartment building in Napa to offer subsidized housing for the crew to complement the medical and dental benefits they get. "It's very competitive to keep good workers," Kesner says.
Entry-level seasonal workers in Napa are paid $10 an hour. On average, full-time workers make $13 to $16 an hour over the course of the year, according to a labor survey by the Napa Valley Grape Growers Assn. During harvest, permanent workers are paid up to $25 to $30 an hour, according to vineyard owners.