Three Lessons From Working in a Vineyard

Over the last 15 years, I’ve worked at a winery, a construction company, a cafe, restaurants, a non-profit, for myself, and now at a start-up in a whole boatload of roles. This is the start of a series of blog posts on the lessons that I’ve learned at all those jobs.

Vineyard Labourer

Naramata, British Columbia

Growing up, I worked as a vineyard laborer at our family winery from my pre-teens to age twenty. At the time I didn’t think much of this experience, but I realize that it has been quite formative for me. Seeing my parents build a business and the freedom and work that goes along with that shaped a lot of what I think about a fulfilling career.

As grapes grow there are different jobs you need to do to keep them growing well. Starting from pruning in the early spring, removing shoots early in spring, tucking vines so they grow in an organized way in early summer, turning down the vines, stripping leaves, thinning fruit, putting up nets. To do all this work across all the properties would take two or three weeks.

Looking back now, the three lessons I learned working in the vineyard every summer are:

  1. How to work with a team. We worked as a crew out in vineyards. So there would be between five and ten of us out in the vineyard doing manual work. Our results were shared (is the vineyard ready and was the work done well?) so we each had to take responsibility for our work. This is a challenge as it creates an incentive to be a free rider. Working on a team, in this way helped me learn a lot about how to work well with others, and how important incentives are.
  2. How to show up and go to work each day. We started at 6 am and I was never late. It seems like a small thing but learning how to wake up at 5:15 am consistently and manage your life around that is a skill that a lot of people have never learned.
  3. How to make work fun. We were a team and would be working with each other all day all summer. After work, a lot of us would hang out as well. The work required attention, but there was still lots of time to talk out interesting ideas, make jokes, and generally have a lot of fun. Those summers working out in the vineyards are fond memories because of how close the crew got spending 40 or 50 hours a week together and how much fun we had while we worked.

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