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Oregon auction aims for $1m for vineyard labourers

An Oregon Pinot Noir auction modelled on the Hospices de Beaune in Burgundy hopes to raise US$1m to provide healthcare for over 3,000 vineyard workers.

The auction is run as a partnership between Oregon vineyard and winery owners, and the Tuality Healthcare Foundation in Hillsboro. Now in its 15th year, it is called Salud (Spanish for ‘health’).

Last year, over US$700,000 was raised from bids for high-end Pinot Noir. Forty-two producers, including Domaine Drouhin and Beaux Freres, donated five cases each. The auction takes place on the second week in November.

In recent years more and more migrant workers are finding work in an increasing number of vineyards. Because of this, the auction this year needs to be a record-breaker, Salud manager Maria MacCandless told decanter.com.

The non-profit initiative pays for both clinics and three full-time health professionals who guide workers – 95% from south of the border – to care centres for a range of services, from occupational therapy and pesticide training, to cholesterol checks and general supervision, according to MacCandless.

‘Their jobs are seasonal. After the grape harvest, they go to Christmas trees,’ she said. ‘Some already have health care, but our bilingual and bicultural staff also advise and accompany them when they visit clinics, as the system can seem complicated to them.’

How to house and look after vineyard workers is an ever-present issue, especially as quality wines demand an increasing amount of hand-care throughout the year, from pruning to picking and sorting.

In California in 2000 the situation reached crisis point: workers’ accommodation proved unable to cope with demand and people were found sleeping in cardboard shacks along the river.

According to Tom Shelton of Napa winery Joseph Phelps, ‘the vintner community quickly acknowledged and dealt with the situation,’ and the situation is now much improved for workers.

In Napa, healthcare for agricultural workers is provided by Clinicolé, which is funded jointly by government and the Napa Valley Wine Auction.

Written by Panos Kakaviatos

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