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Labor Day for Wine Lovers

vineyard_worker.jpgHere in the United States we are celebrating our national holiday known as Labor Day. On the first Monday of September since 1882, we have reserved a day to laud and celebrate the toils of the common working man and woman.

In the absence of a holiday celebrating wine itself, I cannot think of a better holiday for wine lovers to observe, given the pleasures we reap from countless hours of back-breaking work by mostly nameless, faceless workers. Indeed, even as I write this, vineyards throughout the world are swarming with immigrant laborers, each nimble form carrying a plastic box weighing up to 40 pounds when it is finally filled with grapes. These folks have been awake since early this morning, and they will continue through the heat of the day, box after box, row after row.

Every physical product we enjoy in our societies is a product of some human labor, somewhere in the world. Yet for many modern products we are so far removed from the sweat and swearing that go into their making, they might as well have been created through magic. This is one of the gifts and one of the curses of "modern" society, and it is so pervasive that increasingly, those of us who have the means tend to seek out products that bring us closer to the raw materials and the effort behind their creation.

Wine is certainly one of these products for some people, for its ability to capture in a bottle a seasons worth of weather and a nearly timeless sense of dirt, and rocks, and water.

Just as wine is celebrated for the immediacy of its link to, and taste of, a place and time, so too must wine be celebrated for being so blatant a product of human toil. For anyone who has even observed a harvest, let alone tried their hand at working one, that winemaking requires an incredible amount of human effort is undeniable. First and foremost to make wine you need a shitload of grapes. Of course, the industry tends to measure things in slightly more precise terms, such as metric tons, but the most honest measure by far are the number of times a bandana wearing man from El Salvador runs back and forth across a dusty vineyard carrying forty pounds of grapes to a truck. Or the number of miles that man will walk in the course of one harvest. Or the sheer number of hours in a row that man will work for $12 to 15 per hour (if he's lucky) between now and November. The numbers would both amaze and scare you.

The irony of Labor Day falling during the harvest means that all over the country, or at least here in Northern California, is that hundreds of the people who might ordinarily most deserve to take the proscribed day off to celebrate their own labors are instead hard at work making wine for you and me.

So when you open that bottle tonight, don't forget that were it not for the incredible effort of sometimes hundreds of people, you might not be drinking that wine at all. Wine is the ultimate celebration of labor.

And if you care to celebrate in a REAL way, consider a donation to organizations like Sonoma Vineyard Worker Services or whatever your local version of this worthy group might be. Readers, feel free to suggest others that you might know of.

Comments (11)

Tom Byrnes wrote:
09.03.07 at 2:39 PM

Alder, refreshing perspective in this sea of green. well put..salut

Bob H. wrote:
09.03.07 at 3:22 PM

Thanks for the perspective. I'm emailing this off to all my wine swilling friends.

Ron wrote:
09.03.07 at 4:57 PM

Great blog as always!


ali wrote:
09.03.07 at 5:15 PM

Hi Alder, could not have said it any better - thanks for your post.

Another organization to consider is Anderson Valley Housing Association, Rex McClellen along with his wife Milla Handley were instrumental in creating this service for workers in the Anderson Valley.


David Grega wrote:
09.03.07 at 6:37 PM

Hey alder thanks for this article! My hat is off to those men and women that work so hard to provide us more fortunate folk with a wonderful drink to enjoy at our leisure.

Alder's mom wrote:
09.03.07 at 9:07 PM

Thank you for the long overdue acknowledgment of the people who work so hard for low wages and no benefits to put our food and wine on the table.

Gene wrote:
09.04.07 at 8:25 AM

Right on, Alder. Immigrants, mostly Mexican,legal or not, provide us not only with wine, but virtually all the food grown and processed in the U.S. One way to thank these workers is to support a sane immigration bill with a guest worker program(so workers can go back to their families when they want to)and a pathway to citizenship for those who want it, rather than the insane political mishmash the Congress came up with last time. After all, all Americans are either immigrants or the descendants of immigrants and our country was built on immigrant labor. Gene

Jerry D. Murray wrote:
09.04.07 at 2:22 PM

Damn good post Alder! Though we are not in the midst of harvest here in Oregon I found out my vineyard crew was toiling away in our vines yesterday despite the holliday! It was not my idea but thiers and it illistrates the committment and PROFESSIONALISM these workers display ( needless to say, I was at home doing nothing ). Here in Oregon we have SALUD, which raises money for healthcare for vineyard workers. SALUD is supported by 40 wineries auctioning off 6 cases of a wine produced exclusively for the event as well as generous donations and sponsorships.
I agree with the above statements regarding immigration reform. I think we need to view these 'immigrants' as perhaps the sole keepers of traditions and attitudes that are truley american; strong family values ( in action not words ) and the belief that if you work hard you will succeed.
I consider myself fortunate to work with such honest and humble people.

CHATr Box wrote:
09.04.07 at 5:37 PM

There is an organization that strives to help those in the field improve their lives and their working conditions known as Farmworker Justice - FarmworkerJustice.org.

"Farmworker Justice is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers to improve their living and working conditions, immigration status, health, occupational safety, and access to justice. Using a multi-faceted approach, Farmworker Justice engages in litigation, administrative and legislative advocacy, training and technical assistance, coalition-building, public education and support for union organizing."

There are several ways to get involved including events and advocacy programs, or you can just give back by donating through their website:


mike holland wrote:
09.05.07 at 11:24 AM

If you have ever spent an hour harvesting grapes, you develop an appreciation of farm labor. As a middle-aged white guy, I'm embarrased by the fact that I could never stay employed as a field hand. I'm too slow a picker and hauling 40 pound lugs would be too much after a while. So much for immigrants taking jobs that Americans don't want. There are some jobs that some Americans can't do or shouldn't do here.

Gene wrote:
09.05.07 at 1:21 PM

Jerry, I think it's great what you guys are doing in Oregon for your workers. Take a look at a post I wrote in the Seattle Wine Blog on January 15th 2007 about "Mexican Wine." Gene

BTW, if anyone lives in a border state, or even if you don't, there are lots of organizations helping migrants, such as Los Samaritanos, that could use your contributions and help.

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