Autumn means a labor shortage for many local wineries


Domenica Pugliese admittedly could use all the help she can get as the summer months fade into autumn. As the tasting room manager at Pugliese Vineyards in Cutchogue, she’s tasked with ensuring there are enough employees to meet the increasing number of fall visitors.

Still, one offer was simply too much to accept.

A college student who worked at the winery this past summer offered to come back on weekends in the fall to help, Ms. Pugliese said.

The only problem? The woman attends college in Pennsylvania, four hours away.

“That’s a long drive,” said Ms. Pugliese, who politely declined the offer.

Across the North Fork, local wineries and distilleries are often left scrambling to fill positions once school starts and positions once held by those part-timers become harder to fill. As the area becomes more of an autumn tourist destination, the problem has become even greater.

“A lot of the students that work are back at school,” said Richard Stabile, owner of Long Island Spirits in Baiting Hollow. “There’s a smaller labor availability pool.”

That smaller pool starts at the end of August and lasts through Columbus Day, Mr. Stabile said. Both he and other local business owners attribute this to the combination of an increase in seasonal jobs and a limited number of college-aged students once school starts.

Garrett Ward, a tasting room employee at Lieb Cellars in Mattituck, said the winery lost one employee at summer’s end who went back to college. Pugliese Vineyards lost three employees to college. At Diliberto Winery in Jamesport, manager Kristy Venity said they’re “always looking for help” and that they hire both college- and high school-aged students in the summer. The younger staff often works in the kitchen, she said.

While wineries always tend to be busy throughout the summer, autumn weekends can actually be the most hectic. Many owners believe this is due to the fall-centric events held on the North Fork each year, such as this past weekend’s Harbes Farm’s Apple Picking Festival, that bring an increased number of people to the area.

“The East End is a wonderful fall destination,” Mr. Stabile said. “We have wineries, farm stands, distilleries and more.”

While tourism is good for their respective businesses, it’s a problem when wineries find themselves understaffed at a crucial time of year.

Increased competition makes staff even harder to find. The area is home to 20 miles of wineries, more commonly referred to as the North Fork Wine Trail. Prospective workers have a slew of potential employers from which to choose. That can leave wineries competing not only for business, but for staff.

“It makes it very difficult,” Ms. Venity said of losing staff members every year. “And then of course we have all of the [wineries] competing, too.”

Each business tries to find ways to combat the inevitable shortage during the fall season.

Ms. Venity said she asks staff members early in the summer to tell her their last day, which is typically sometime mid-August, so that she has a jump start hiring the next round of seasonal employees.

Other places begin the job hunt even earlier. Mr. Ward said Lieb Cellars begins looking for summer and fall employees around March or April.

Sometimes, it even comes down to a friend lending a helping hand.

“I have friends who have kids in school and don’t work that will come in and help when we’re busy,” Ms. Pugliese said.

[email protected]