Orange wineries seek pickers due to COVID-19 causing backpacker shortage

HARVEST TIME: Charlie Svenson has been picking grapes alongside family members and French pickers from Champagne. Photo: JUDE KEOGH
HARVEST TIME: Charlie Svenson has been picking grapes alongside family members and French pickers from Champagne. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

International travel restrictions caused by COVID-19 have added a challenge to the 2021 harvest for vineyards in the Orange cool climate wine region.

De Salis Wines owners Charlie and Loretta Svenson have been joining the team of pickers they have recruited to help them get their sparkling varietals off the vines before looming rain ruins the grapes and increase disease risk.

"Small producers don't have sufficient work to employ very large numbers of seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands, we rely on transient workers," Mr Svenson said.

However, without those back packers arriving at the Nashdale-based winery this year, a new approach had to be taken so family and friends, including artists and pickers from the Champagne region in France, have been recruited.

Mr Svenson said the award for a casual picker is $24.70 plus superannuation and he was calling on locals to call the winery if they want to work.

"We are picking pinot noir for sparkling wine," he said.

"This year's been quite wet, there's a full moisture profile in the ground."

He said there was a little bit of disease in the grapes that needs to be removed and with more rain to come it was important to pick the grapes as quickly as possible.

"We know if we are going to get rain in a week we've got to get there before hand," Mr Svenson said.

"It's going to be a great season, it's just hectic."

However, he said a bit of disease was nothing compared to smoke taint from last year's bushfires that caused some wineries to lose an entire vintage.

Orange Region Vignerons Association president and Swinging Bridge owner Tom Ward said winery owners have been advised to have pickers or machinery harvesters lined up early.

"We are very conscious that there's a shortage of back packers and interstate people who can come to pick," Mr Ward said.

"We are advising vignerons to look at their options.

"We are encouraging people to work hard in the next three to four weeks."

He said 2021 will be a vital year for many wineries and a lot of grape varieties will ripen close together.

"We have picked a couple of little parcels [at Swinging Bridge] and are looking to do some big ones in the next 10 to 14 days," Mr Ward said.

He said it looked like it would be a fantastic season.

However, not all wineries will be caught out by the lack of itinerant workers and not all are ready to harvest.

Nashdale Lane Wines owner Nick Seggar said his grapes are not yet ready to pick but when they are he has a professional team already lined up.

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