How to Find Work on a Vineyard in Australia
So maybe you’re like me, and you really like wine, want to work in the biz, and fancy getting some firsthand knowledge by working on a vineyard. Or maybe you’re looking to get your farm work done for your second year visa, and would prefer to be on a vineyard than a cattle farm in the middle of nowhere. Regardless of your reasoning, here are a few tips that will help you get a job on a vineyard in Australia.
The most important thing is to make sure your timing is right. There are different seasons of work on a vineyard, and you need to show up before or towards the beginning of a season to even think about getting a job. Joining a crew in the middle of the season is a pretty unlikely possibility, so follow this off-the-cuff guide for job-hunting:
Picking grapes: this season will begin towards the end of the summer, in February or March. Depending on where you are, it’s a good idea to get things rolling earlier rather than later…if the vineyards are in a desirable beach location, there might already be a ton of people there from the summer that have a head start on you.
Pruning: pruning is a winter activity, and starts in June or July, depending on the region and the size of the vineyard. Pruning is tough work, and involves cutting off all of the unwanted growth to ensure the vines grow as good as possible in the next season.
Wire dropping: Dropping wires comes immediately after pruning. It’s unlikely you’ll get a job for this season, as it’s really just a continuation of pruning work, but there’s a chance you can work for a contracting company.
Shooting: shooting comes after pruning, and will usually start in October. This involves pulling the overgrowth out without any tools, and will last about a month or two.
Your best odds for finding work on a vineyard for a long-term spell are to get there at either the beginning of the pruning or picking season. These are the most labor-intensive jobs that vineyard will require a lot of workers for.
Obviously, Australia is a big place, and there are a lot of wine regions. I worked in Margaret River in Western Australia, but there is a high concentration of vineyards in New South Wales and South Australia. I’d recommend that you concentrate on a particular region that you’re already interested in before you begin your search for a vineyard. You need to be close enough so that you can start at any job within a few days if they have work for you. As with searching for any job, you’re going to have a tough time getting hired in WA when you’re in North Queensland with no experience and no particular plans to fly to WA. Keep that in mind, and narrow your geographic search before you start looking for jobs.
Once you’ve narrowed your geographic field, you can pursue the two different methods for finding work at a vineyard: finding work with a contracting company or going directly to the estates themselves.
This method is initially easier. Contracting companies are way more likely to hire you right off the bat or put your name down for consideration if there is an opening. However, even if they do hire you, you will not be guaranteed work every day. Contractors have tons of clients, and they send their workers to different sites every day…you might get lucky and be put on a job for a longer period of a time, or you might end up going to two or three different locations in a day. Oftentimes they will not pay for travel time, and some days you will not have work at all. The biggest downside is the contractor takes a cut of your pay, so if you are making $20/hour, you might wind up netting $16 when all is said and done.
Directly to the Estates
This is the far better option. You will have a much higher likelihood of working consistently, your pay will not be reduced after the contractors take a cut, and you will be working in a stable, consistent environment. Especially at a vineyard, being in one place will give you the chance to forge a relationship with the vineyard managers, the winemakers, the salespeople, the owners—and you will gain a much better understanding of the overall running of the place.
So, now that we’ve established that finding work on a vineyard Estate during pruning or picking season is the ideal method of finding work, how can you go about doing it?
First and foremost, you should have a car if you intend to work on a vineyard. In general, they are remote places away from any accommodation, which you’ll need to get to by yourself. If you work for a contractor there’s a chance that you can end up carpooling with someone, but if you’re seeking work on a vineyard estate, there is no way you’ll be hired without your own transport. That is virtually a certainty.
Have a resume ready, highlighting any experience you might have with outdoor work, gardening work, experience with wine—anything to show that you have a leg up over anyone else. If you helped your mother prune her flowers in her garden growing up, put that down!
Obtain a list of vineyards in the region you’re trying to work, along with their phone numbers. This can be easily acquired online. Sit down, and call every one of them. Be upbeat, enthusiastic, and underline the fact that you are willing to work whenever they need you since there might be odd work around the vineyard that they’ll need you for. The best times to call are right before pruning season (June), and before picking season (January). State that you have your own transportation, and list whatever experience you have that will add value to them. It’s better to call too early than too late. Keep a list of places you call that are amenable to workers, and which are abrupt and not open to the possibility.
Print out those resumes, and start making house calls. Vineyards are busiest with tastings on the weekends, so show up sometime during the week when you will not be bothering them. Look presentable, since you’ll often be walking into the cellar doors and not onto the farm to speak with someone. Express your interest, and your willingness to work for them.
Odds are, if you present yourself as someone willing to work and get dirty, but are still sociable enough to get along easily with the people working behind the cellar door, you’ll get hired. It’s all a matter of having everything that they need—a car and a hard-working attitude—and being in the right place at the right time. Now it’s in your power to make sure you have those things, and to get yourself hired!
Obtaining a position with a contracting company is much easier. Once you’ve found the region you want to work in, you can look up the contracting companies, here are the main ones for regions, and call them. You might have to emphasize the fact that you pruned flowers in your mother’s garden recently, but odds are as long as you time everything right and have your own transportation, they will take you on their crew. But remember, the goal is to get hired directly by a vineyard!