Top producers in Argentina's Mendoza have slammed government work schemes which they say will force a move towards mechanised harvesting.

Under the Argentinian government’s Plan Trabajar (Work Plan) unemployment-busting scheme, seasonal workers will be disqualified from receiving benefits. This will restrict the number of workers available at harvest time, producers say.

‘It just doesn’t make sense,’ Norton winemaker María Jimena López told decanter.com. ‘The problem is that these people are disqualified from their benefit if they take on seasonal work. But such work is crucial to Mendoza, where not only the wine industry but general agriculture creates a big demand for this kind of labour.’

The problem is compounded by the fact that by far the most common vineyard training system in Mendoza is the pergola, which covers over 75,000ha out of a total of 148,000ha.

This system is labour intensive and difficult to mechanise. Most producers in recent years have been planting more machine-friendly espaldera or VSP (vertical shoot positioning) training systems.

Viticulturist Mario Sonzogni of sparkling wine producer Chandon said, ‘It’s definitely an issue. Luckily for us, many of our vineyards have been planted with a view to mechanisation and we harvest early for the sparkling wine, so in any case there are people available because it’s not the time of highest demand.’

The Plan Trabajar was introduced to combat unemployment following devaluation in 2002 and the ensuing economic crisis. However, decanter.com understands from official sources that the scheme may soon be shelved as unemployment has fallen from 20% shortly after devaluation to current levels of around 12%.

Manual labour is still a less expensive option than machinery in Argentina’s vineyards.

Written by Peter Richards