California’s Vineyard Workers Already Faced Long Hours, Low Pay, and Harsh Conditions. Then Came Trump’s Immigration Crackdown.
July 5, 2018
A mechanical harvester works by shaking a vine so fast the grapes fall off, leaving behind the rachis stem—the main axis of each cluster—and splitting some of the individual grapes. Kathleen Inman, who owns a small winery and an eight-acre vineyard in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, prefers to use entire bunches during the fermentation process; she says the rachises “act like a cage to protect some of the berries” and lend flavor and texture. When a grape’s skin splits, “you’re losing the chance to have the fermentation happen inside the berry,” she explains.
So Inman hires contractor Jim Pratt to recruit crews to do the picking manually. Pratt says he started having trouble finding workers in 2011. While the pinch began during the Obama administration, it tightened last year. “Trump has been more vocal,” he said—“more threatening to employees.”
The undocumented workers I talked with when I was in wine country echoed those concerns. One picker, whom I’ll call Ulises, told me that Trump made him feel unwanted. “He created this anxiety. You could just be working here, doing everything normally, and bad luck will hit.”