On his long and bumpy journey towards becoming the most powerful man on Earth, Donald Trump has offended just about everyone. Now he can add winemakers to that long and distinguished list.
Trump’s severe anti-immigration rhetoric has the West Coast wine industry fearing there will be nobody to pick grapes for this year’s harvest. Americans don’t want the job, so two-thirds of California’s farm workers are undocumented migrants, and Trump’s threatened crackdown has them running scared.
Just as the Golden State’s wineries celebrated torrential rainfall that ended a prolonged and damaging drought, they now have to fear a lack of labour.
You could argue they already have enough on their plate with the state’s burgeoning marijuana industry to contend with: they have to fight for share of buzz, and marketing teams are forced to extend food and wine pairing guides to account for the advent of weed, to convince consumers that White Widow pairs beautifully with a Russian River Pinot Noir, and Purple Haze and a Napa Cabernet are simply a match made in Heaven.
The last thing they need is competition from the marijuana industry over workers, but that is the reality. Producers know how badly they rely on migrant workers. ‘In California, it drives our economy,’ says Tom Davies at V. Sattui in St Helena. ‘We need people to work the fields, not just for wine grapes, but for all the producers we have.’
In Oregon an organisation called Causa, which supports immigrants, has noticed an upturn in raids at wineries by the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency. It is a particular worry for fine wine producers, who rely on hand harvesting.
There is a degree of mechanisation, but the leading boutique producers of Oregon Pinot Noir pick everything by hand to ensure it is of the utmost quality.
One third of the population of Napa County is made up of immigrants. Many of them have been in the USA for decades and have American children, but they could all be at the sharp end of Trump’s deportation efforts if the threatened crackdown ramps up. Melissa Patrino, executive director at Puertas Abiertas, another organisation that helps immigrant populations, claims that Napa’s wine industry would completely shut down if undocumented workers in the area were deported.
Trump promised to make America great again in his campaign rallies, but he has been accused of threatening the health of a great American industry. The President is a teetotaller, so he may not be particularly bothered by this development. But it is hugely ironic, because his own winery in Virginia has been hiring foreign workers.
That’s right, not only did Trump launch a vodka brand, he also has a winery. Trump Vineyard Estates, in Charlottesville, has requested 29 foreign workers to cultivate vines, because it cannot ‘hire American’ – another Trump slogan.
What does it all mean for the US wine industry? It is unlikely that quality will be compromised. Estates are racing to get picking teams in place, and if anything it will just increase production costs as they have to pay more for American workers, so the price of that Napa Cabernet to go with your Purple Haze will simply cost a lot more.
Good job wine writers aren’t hyping up the latest Bordeaux en primeur, which would drive prices up there. Oh, wait.