Winejobs.com Summit Focuses on Retention, not Recruiting

Survey shows Napa winemakers barely ahead of Sonoma counterparts in average pay

by Paul Franson
wine industry winejobs.com recrutiing summit
Source: Source: Winejobs.com Summit

Napa, Calif.—The second annual Winejobs.com Summit wasn’t a job fair, but a chance for human resources (HR) professionals to learn the latest trends and share ideas about recruiting, development and job retention in the wine business. The event was especially valuable for the HR departments at small wineries—often a single-person or even multitasking individuals—to get a broader picture than from within their own companies.

Attendees heard presentations by HR experts but were able to share their own comments off the record to maintain confidentiality.

Though the summit at the Westin Verasa hotel in Napa covered all aspects of human resources, its program emphasized the steps wineries are taking to develop and retain employees in a time of low unemployment.

Winejobs.com, the largest online source of wine industry job openings, is a service of Wine Business Monthly. Eric Jorgensen, the magazine’s publisher, led off the discussion by sharing overall trends. For starters, things are going well: The number of jobs posted by wineries in the most recent 12 months was up 7% compared to a year ago, though that rate of growth is down from 21% the year before.

“This is a strong rate of growth,” said Jorgensen. “This increase is primarily due to the fact that the wine industry is thriving. And the growth in wine industry hiring didn’t start in 2016. This is a continuing growth trend for hiring that has been going on for a number of years.”

After dropping in 2009, during the recession, the number of job postings has increased each year.

The demand grows at a time when unemployment in Napa County is at just over 4%, the lowest since 2008. It hit almost 10% in 2010 and 2011. The situation is similar in other wine regions.

Wineries report that it’s very difficult to find qualified staff. A survey conducted by Personnel Perspective of more than 100 wineries in California’s Napa and Sonoma counties found that almost 40% of wineries in Napa County and more than 30% in Sonoma County report that it’s very difficult to find competent tasting room staff.

Tasting rooms aren’t the only area in which wineries are suffering. More than 60% report that they find it hard to find qualified direct-to-consumer staff, while 35% report the same for sales and marketing help.

The same is true for almost 30% of wineries looking for vineyard and harvest help, while ironically, their easiest task is finding winemakers: Only about 10% report problems in recruiting winemaking staff.

Making a lucrative deal
Recruiting staff is only part of the problem. A large portion of wineries (27%) are responding by offering increased compensation and benefits, increased training (23%), opportunities for advancement, schedule flexibility and other perks.

The survey found that the biggest challenge in retaining employees was opportunities for advancement—little surprise since most wineries are relatively small organizations.

“Wineries, especially small and mid-size wineries, lack the opportunities for advancement that would allow them to keep good employees,” said Jorgensen, reflecting the views of the Winejobs.com Summit advisory board.  

More than 35% of personnel managers stated that creating opportunities for advancement was their biggest challenge, followed by providing training and education, competitive compensation, burnout, morale and organizational changes.

Following Jorgensen’s summary, speakers addressed recruiting, compensation trends, and especially staff development and retention.

Steve Treder, senior vice president of Western Management Group, reported on two surveys of wine industry positions conducted with Wine Business Monthly, which provides detailed data in its October issue.

Salary by region
Not surprisingly, the data varies significantly across the country and for different size wineries for comparable positions. For example, total compensation for top winemakers at Napa wineries ranges from about $80,000 at wineries that make less than 2,500 cases to $160,000 for wineries that produce 10,000-25,000 cases in Napa County.

Overall, the biggest wineries don’t pay the most, either. Pay for winemakers at wineries making more than 500,000 cases lagged smaller firms.

Also of interest: The compensation is lower in Sonoma County but the variation is much smaller, and winemakers at wineries making 5,000-10,000 cases make the most there, though all average about $112,000 to $120,000.

Compensation is up in all cases, of course—up 3.2% for top winemakers, up 12.7% for VPs of sales but only 1.2% for vineyard managers in the WMG Wine Industry Compensation Survey.

And while winemakers in Napa average $104,000 in base pay, with Sonoma close behind at $99,000, those in the northeast U.S. get only $52,000 for their efforts, according to the survey.

Following that data-laden presentation, two speakers discussed their attempts to develop and retain staff.

Performance meetings at Jackson

Kathy Reddick, director of talent development at Jackson Family Wines, outlined the company’s emphasis on performance management, a program designed to encourage managers to coach and develop their staff. “The concept of work-life balance is being replaced by getting the best possible work experience,” she said.

This encourages managers and staff to take responsibility for their own progress while linking it to the company’s goals. In particular, it replaces once-per-year reviews with three conversations between manager and employee.

The first, held in summer, helps staff assess their performance and set goals, with two other conversations providing coaching and development.

Now in its second year, the program has discovered that most employees want to have conversations about their careers, but few managers know how to have them the right way. The company is providing more coaching training for managers and employee training about giving and receiving feedback in response.

Interestingly, they found that not all employees are looking for promotions but are happy doing their jobs. Many, however, seek different opportunities in the company, while all want to feel important.

Jackson, which was recently selected as one of the best places to work in the North Coast, also offers a wide range of classes and training in professional skills, managing people, business acumen, language for Spanish and English speakers and career development.

Career development at Cakebread
Following that theme, Nicole Cummings, human resources manager at Cakebread Cellars, discussed creating career development paths for lower and mid-level employees including assessing team members to provide them with growth and job enrichment opportunities.

This involves identifying top performers, solid performers and underperformers and recognizing that different employees can make different contributions when trained to do their job well.

Cakebread, like Jackson, also recognizes that some employees want to change roles. For example, it tries to hire cellar workers with college degrees, and it trains many cellar workers to interact with visitors, who enjoy having wine samples from them. For employees with management potential, it also provides cross training. Cummings was sent on an international sales mission to broaden her knowledge, for example.

Other speakers addressed innovative recruiting, communicating about compensation and effective team building.

The Summit concluded with small round tables of attendees sharing their experiences and solutions.

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