Wineries Face New Challenges Keeping Workers Safe During Pandemic

winery working wearing PPE as COVID precaution

 Shutting down and staying home when the novel coronavirus pandemic hasn’t been an option for much of the wine industry. Instead, producers had to quickly figure out how to create a safe environment not only for guests and servers in the tasting rooms, but also for those working in the winery.  

Some procedures are temporary, like limiting how many people can share a space, taking workers’ temperatures, and spacing out employees on sorting lines. Others are likely to stick around. We take a look at the worker safety protocol that make sense beyond the virus.  

Keeping Clean 

Plenty of sanitation guidelines have been laid out by federal organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration and Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as well as trade groups like the Wine Institute and Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance. These give broad, straightforward advice about encouraging frequent and thorough handwashing with soap and water or using alcohol-based sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available, and disinfecting equipment. 

Of course, keeping a clean winery has always been essential to the process of making wine. 

“We already sanitize everything before and after we use it,” says John Grochau, cofounder and winemaker at Red Electric in Portland, Oregon, and at Grochau Cellars in Amity, Oregon, when asked if he’ll continue any Covid-era protocol. “I am thinking we will enhance that sanitization process a bit, perhaps adding another step.” 

Sick Leave 

Procedures for employees who may have Covid-19 are clear and specific. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that any employee presenting coronavirus symptoms be assumed to have the disease and stay home for at least seven days, 72 hours after symptoms pass, or after receiving two negative tests 24 hours apart.  

Effective April 1, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act required that all companies provide up to two weeks sick leave at two-thirds pay, but only through December 31, 2020. It’s now up to individual businesses to evaluate their paid time off policies.  

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“If you are sick, don’t come to work,” Grochau says. “I will have to look at budgeting and such, but I think this would require more sick leave.” 

He adds that from here on out, any employees who come to work with a runny nose or mild cough will be required to wear masks. 

It’s hard to disentangle these issues from hazards due to wildfire and, in some cases, low wages and dormitory conditions for seasonal labor. But certainly, there’s renewed attention being paid through groups like the Alliance for a Just Recovery in California’s North Bay. Healthier workers mean better wine, and that’s something every producer can strive toward. 

Published on February 3, 2021
Topics: The New Now