For years, consumers have eagerly worked at California wineries as unpaid volunteers at harvest time, usually for the experience, and sometimes for meals and wine, even though California’s wage and hour laws regulate the use of such volunteers. Recently, however, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) has begun cracking down on this practice. In fact, Westover Winery in Castro Valley recently was forced out of business after facing $115,000 in state fines—for back wages and penalties for using unpaid volunteers.
It seems almost laughable, since volunteers usually pick only a few grapes, as the job is rigorous and requires training. For-profit wineries were shocked by this enforcement of minimum labor standards that will sadly force them to discontinue the invited participation. The law also applies to unpaid harvest interns who work only a few months a year.
Wineries can still provide educational seminars, and experiences if consumers pay. And a number of wineries offer “boot camps,” where wine club members pay for the privilege of participating in harvest and winemaking. An example is Cakebread Cellars’ American Harvest Workshop. Fortunately, these events are still legal.