How California North Coast wineries are recruiting talent in a tight job market

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Can you 'slice and dice data'? Vintners want you

The social media and technology skills a winery is looking for are dependent on the size and focus of the company.

Tracy McArdle of Good Life Wine Collective said helpful tech skills include experience in Microsoft Excel as well as “the ability to slice and dice data very easily.”

“We also look for candidates proficient in eCellar, a POS system that integrates with (the software program) ShipCompliant, and someone who can run our email campaigns,” said McArdle.

Stefanie Indart of Francis Ford Coppola Winery said having social media and tech skills “is definitely a plus but not necessary.”

“It helps if a candidate is savvy and professional in social media, but we’re not looking for someone who’s an influencer already. We do want candidates who act professional when it comes to social media, follow guidelines for the company, are respectful of others, and do not share confidential information about the company,” said Indart.

Ed Feuchuk of Farm Collective said the company has a professional sales team skilled in programs like Adobe Creative Suite software, including Photoshop and Lightroom, which involve editing photos, and Premiere Pro, which involves editing videos.

“We’re actually looking for candidates who can maybe write or play with HTML, but also have artistic abilities. If you can illustrate or take and edit professional-grade photos, that’ll really help our team. We like to do everything in-house,” said Feuchuk.

With more than 500 wineries in Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties, and a low unemployment rate, candidates for hospitality and wine sales positions have many options when choosing a workplace.

But North Bay wineries have stayed competitive with one another and wineries in other regions by offering incentives, like the opportunity to learn about the winemaking process, offering hiring and visitor traffic-related bonuses, creating opportunities for advancement, and holding retreats for members of their “work family.”

In 2018, North Bay wineries have been able to use visitor traffic numbers and sales to offer incentives to hospitality and wine sales employees. Unlike last year, the majority of wineries haven’t had to deal with a fire-related drop in visitor traffic. They also have not seen in-person or online slowdowns due to staff being out of the area.

“When an employee can make additional money on commissions, this will help in retaining them,” said Aaron Crist, branch manager for Nelson Staffing’s Napa branch.

Kelley Hartman, senior vice president for the North Bay branches of Nelson Staffing, which include Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Napa, said employers have to start with competitive pay rates.

“Training and wine-related education are good. Napa alone is geographically huge. The smaller, more remote wineries have a harder time because of the longer commute,” Hartman said.

Crist said attracting staff that live nearby is critical.

“Outside of Marin and Solano counties, not a lot of people come to the North Bay to work in the wine industry. Within Napa and Sonoma counties, the commute can be grueling. We see many of our candidates wanting to work closer to home,” said Crist.

ENCOURAGEMENT THROUGH CONSTANT COMMUNICATION

Tracy McArdle, general manager of the Good Life Wine Collective, said everything begins with company culture. Good Life’s wineries include Jessup Cellars and Handwritten Wines in Yountville, and Humanitas Wines in Napa.

To help grow its ethos, Good Life created an incentive program facilitated by virtual meetings.

“Each director from each area holds a smart team meeting once a week using digital devices. We have a dashboard revenue goal and a (visitor) traffic goal for the month. One of the most important things in this industry is driving traffic through your door. If you really make someone feel special, it goes a long way, for you and for the company,” said McArdle.

McArdle said the meetings lead employees “in the right direction so everybody is on the same page.”

Erin Luby, vice president of tasting rooms and wine clubs for Vintage Wine Estates, said Vintage occasionally provides employees incentives on certain occasions when they refer candidates hired for key positions.

“We offer hiring incentives for some hard-to-fill positions. We offer an employee education reimbursement program, encouraging employees to reach level 3 in the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). In addition, every tasting room employee goes through a number of educational trainings in the first 90 days of employment,” said Luby.

Vintage owns six wineries in Napa County, including Clos Pegase in Calistoga and Swanson Vineyards tasting salon in Rutherford, and four wineries in Sonoma County, including Sonoma Coast Vineyards in Bodega Bay and B.R. Cohn Winery in Glen Ellen.

Ed Feuchuk is director of consumer marketing at Farm Collective, which owns four wineries in Napa County, including Regusci Winery in Napa and Tank Garage Winery in Calistoga.

Can you 'slice and dice data'? Vintners want you

The social media and technology skills a winery is looking for are dependent on the size and focus of the company.

Tracy McArdle of Good Life Wine Collective said helpful tech skills include experience in Microsoft Excel as well as “the ability to slice and dice data very easily.”

“We also look for candidates proficient in eCellar, a POS system that integrates with (the software program) ShipCompliant, and someone who can run our email campaigns,” said McArdle.

Stefanie Indart of Francis Ford Coppola Winery said having social media and tech skills “is definitely a plus but not necessary.”

“It helps if a candidate is savvy and professional in social media, but we’re not looking for someone who’s an influencer already. We do want candidates who act professional when it comes to social media, follow guidelines for the company, are respectful of others, and do not share confidential information about the company,” said Indart.

Ed Feuchuk of Farm Collective said the company has a professional sales team skilled in programs like Adobe Creative Suite software, including Photoshop and Lightroom, which involve editing photos, and Premiere Pro, which involves editing videos.

“We’re actually looking for candidates who can maybe write or play with HTML, but also have artistic abilities. If you can illustrate or take and edit professional-grade photos, that’ll really help our team. We like to do everything in-house,” said Feuchuk.

“It’s really hard to find people. Unemployment is at an all-time low. Also, we’re kind of unconventional. Our core values include being different, valuing innovation and taking risks,” said Feuchuk.

Feuchuk said he looks for candidates who are rooted in the North Bay and want to make progress.

“People tend to move up and onwards, so we get them while they’re at their best,” said Feuchuk.

Good Life and Farm Collective also hold retreats and sometimes, parties, for employees.

“In addition (at Farm Collective), we encourage employees to visit the other wineries on their off days. This helps them get to know everyone and see how the other locations work,” said Feuchuk.

SHOWCASING THE VALUE OF THE BRAND

Lindsey Auchter, director of consumer experience at E. & J. Gallo Winery, said the company looks for staff who “have a desire to create rich customer experiences.”

E. & J. Gallo, which is headquartered in Modesto, owns numerous wineries in Sonoma and Napa counties, including Asti Winery and J Vineyards & Winery, both in Healdsburg.

“Gallo has a world-class global wine education program, including hands-on travel courses that visit some of the world’s finest winegrowing and winemaking regions,” said Auchter.

Gallo holds staff training events where employees taste through new releases and hear directly from the winemakers about the unique qualities of each wine.

“These trainings might include a presentation from our executive chef about food pairings for each wine or upcoming menu changes. We sample the pairings, learn about why it works, and how to describe the experience. There are incredible discussions in these trainings. We learn a lot from each other. The questions or observations everyone is making helps us to do our jobs better,” said Auchter.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville typically hires more than 100 hospitality positions every year. Coppola particularly encourages seasonal hospitality employees to learn about the brand and the people behind it.

“We advertise at SRJC and SSU. Many of our employees from these campuses come back to work for us again. That’s because our culture has been described as one big family. Yet we have candidates who, coming in, had no idea Francis Ford Coppola was a famous movie director. They soon learn we operate a little more creatively than other companies. If you’re on board with that, you will fit in,” said Stefanie Indart, people operations recruiter at Coppola.

SOLIDIFYING A COMMITMENT TO IN-HOUSE TRAINING

North Bay wineries, especially those with multiple properties, often attract and keep hospitality and wine sales employees by teaching them through cellar and field operations.

“Learning and watching and seeing the inner workings of the cellar helps sales and hospitality employees understand the wine industry better. In addition, many of our employees are cross-trained at multiple wineries (in) Napa and Sonoma counties,” said Luby.

Luby said at least one of Vintage’s full-time employees splits their time between two wineries. There is also one full-time on-call employee who covers all of Vintage’s 10 wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties.

“Due to the proximity, there are clusters of properties that rely and lean on each other. Cross-training between two or more properties helps employees get to know our company and the industry better,” said Luby.

Feuchuk said Farm Collective not only gets the tasting room staff out in the vineyards but also has “the winemaking team visit the digital marketing team. We do as much crossover training as possible.”

Hartman said employees can advance their training by being flexible.

“The winery business is seven days a week. It’s not an 8 to 5 job. The busy times are often the weekends and holidays. Employees with a strong work ethic, who are reliable and dependable, and who are willing to pitch in when and where needed are those who can go far in the hospitality industry. There is so much you can learn about the wine industry when you make yourself available to soak it all in,” said Hartman.

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