The growth of UK viticulture has been rapid in the past decade. But a large percentage of the new producers don’t come from a traditional farming background, many are from IT or the financial sector. Consequently these new entrants to wine production don’t have the skillset for the day to day tasks in the vineyard. Also, many of these new ventures are large scale commercial acreage (it’s pretty unlikely that any MD’s are going to be out pruning). So vineyard teams are essential to ensure viticultural tasks are completed to a professional standard. In addition, there is also a continuing lack of skilled and experienced domestic workers to keep pace with the increasing acreage of vineyards.
Consequently, most commercial growers now use experienced contractors such as ourselves. We don’t see ourselves as agencies as we don’t work outside viticulture. It’s difficult to put a percentage on the vineyards that use contract services but I would suggest that all commercial growers use this type of service, maybe smaller producers do all tasks themselves but I don’t know many that do!
With this thought in mind we should spare a thought for the many hundreds of overseas staff that do all the pruning, harvesting, shoot removal and all the essential back breaking vineyard tasks. It’s true to say that seasonal staff come from many countries but currently the majority are from Romania. So what makes them choose English vineyards? I’ve asked three members of my team to let me know what they do and why they do it…
I’m a team supervisor and I have worked with Darcy and James for seven years. I work on the vines, on all tasks from the planting stage through pruning, shoot selection, canopy work until harvest. All vineyard tasks are interesting but I like pruning the best, however it can be very tiring during the cold weather. It’s very rewarding when my team complete a vineyard. We are now harvesting so we are working at many different vineyards during this month, the fruit this season has been beautiful so it’s been very enjoyable.
Of course I came to England to earn money but also because the land is so green and I think it’s very beautiful here. Working with nature gives me lots of energy plus I enjoy the quietness of working on farms. There are lots of opportunities working in the UK and I have had the privilege to meet new people and learn new skills. When I was working in Romania I worked in the accounts department for a factory.
I sometimes miss my home country, especially the food and our traditions. I would like to stay in England as it would be a new beginning and opportunity for my family.
I’m the site foreman and tractor operator for one of the three trellising teams (at VW), my responsibility is to ensure that the installation goes to the customer’s requirements. I enjoy trellising as it allows me to solve daily issues such as repairs plus my team work independently. Before I came to the UK I worked on the production line at Dacia Renault so engineering and problem solving is my background.
I’ve been working for VW since 2011, when I began I worked in the vines, on pruning and canopy work but my favourite job has always been trellising, we pride ourselves on perfectly uniform rows. My team are currently working on the extension to Hambledon vineyard in Hampshire. The ground here is chalk and very hard so we have to be very patient.
I came to the UK to earn a good wage and for a better standard of living for my family who are still in Romania. My wife (Diana) also worked as a team supervisor until my son was born last year, I miss them very much. I miss the warm weather in Romanian summers but we are seeing unexpected climate change more clearly in Romania which is a big worry. Since I have worked for Vine-Works I have earned enough money to pay for a house to be built for my family, so I feel fortunate.
We’ve talked about settling my family permanently in the UK but we’re very uncomfortable now with all the talk in the media about immigrants being no longer welcome so I’ve yet to decide.
I’m a team supervisor at VW and I am the newest to the team joining them at the beginning of pruning 2018. I am really enjoying working here. My role is working on the vines, I like the direct contact and producing high quality grapes. I also enjoy the social side of working with my regular team but I’m equally happy driving a tractor.
Previously I was an agronomist with Syngenta and before that I was vineyard manager at DomenuilCoroanei, this is a 300ha wine estate in Segarcea, southern Romania, so I am very used to managing large teams. I am enjoying learning different viticultural techniques in cooler climates. The climate in England is more moderate than Romania, there every day in winter is minus and summer can be 40c plus, so it can be very challenging.
I came to the UK several years ago initially to learn English for my studies but I have always felt respected and appreciated by my employers so feel welcomed here. I take pride in my work and I enjoy ‘close’ working with vines on precision jobs especially crown clearing. Today we are harvesting amazing Chardonnay at Redfold vineyard in Sussex, it will make a wonderful wine.
I am hoping to settle in England with my family as I am enjoying my job and see the opportunities in a new and expanding wine industry.
I’d like to thank these three members of my team and all of my staff who over the years have worked in over one hundred vineyards across all of the counties of England and hope to see them all stay to build our vibrant industry.