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Lionizing Workers, robotizing vineyard

Dave Ransom  |  Issue: July | August 2019
harvesting robot

The new workers that will harvest the grapes.


Recently, major newspapers in California’s “Wine Country” ran big ads lionizing the top workers in the vineyards and wineries, Latinos all.

One ad pictured seven top harvesters with an average 22 years with their employer. “Sustaining a family farm requires love, commitment, and hard work. . . .We are proud to recognize the people who help us grow the world’s highest quality winegrapes.”

Gabino Ramirez, who has worked at Serres Ranch for 30 years, was recognized as the Sonoma County Winegrowers employee of the year.

Titled “Thank You,” the ads were placed by the the grape growers’ and vintners’ organizations. But they came at an odd time.

Just weeks earlier, a panel of Wine Country owners had agreed that most vineyard workers will be automated out of their jobs in the near future. Pruning, leafing, thinning, and picking have all become cheaper and easier now, done by machine.


worker harvesting grapes

A worker, present day, harvesting grapes.


More than a century ago, the workers who planted the first vineyards and built the first wineries in Wine Country, immigrant Chinese, were run out of the area once their work was done.

This time it won’t be just the Latinos. More than half Sonoma County’s struggling low-income workers are Anglos. And they are being shoved out, too, by wages kept low by automation and housing costs being driven up by the high salaries paid to Bay Area tech workers.

It isn’t just in agriculture. Amazon has announced plans to introduce robotic packers into dozens of its warehouses, eliminating 24 jobs at each place. The machines pack four or five times faster than a human.

Amazon has also announced that its warehouses will be fully automated within a decade or so. It already has more than 100,000 robots working worldwide.

Handwriting on the wall!

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