Grape Harvest Gets Underway With Coronavirus Protocols

A worker empties a bin of freshly picked cabernet sauvignon wine grapes at the Stags' Leap Winery September 27, 2004 in Napa, California.
Photo credit Justin Sullivan/ Getty Images

High temperatures, long hours and surprises from Mother Nature; the grape harvest can be grueling even in a good year.

Grape growers and vineyard managers say their preparations for this harvest season included a lot of new safety protocols and education for farmworkers.

"Creating the culture of safety so everyone knows stay distanced," said Karissa Kruse, President of Sonoma County Winegrowers. "Most of our vineyards, our rows are by definition six feet or further apart so it helps with the social distancing part. Lots of training’s going on out there but that’s obviously the biggest curveball for everyone this year."

Vineyards have also adopted new sanitization and hand washing protocols to reduce risk in shared spaces and entrances and exits.

As temperatures rise this week, harvest will shift to overnight hours.

"Our farmers are up at midnight," said Kruse. "They might start a harvest picking around 1 in the morning, picking until 7, 8 in the morning."

An average harvest can yield 200,000 tons of grapes, but even before the pandemic growers anticipated a smaller crop this season after little rainfall and multiple years in a row of above average crops.

The yearly grape crop in Sonoma County is worth about $500 million.