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Vine workers’ housing struggle

Joel Watson winemaker at Luna Estate in Martinborough. PHOTO/NZME

Increasing property prices and demand for holiday accommodation is making it harder for Martinborough wineries to find worker accommodation, GIANINA SCHWANECKE reports.

Joel Watson from Luna Estate said lack of affordable and available housing was an issue in the industry as they relied on a large migrant workforce.

“We use the European backpackers and most of them have vans or campers,” he said.

“Most of them are folks who are in the country for a short time and then they’re off again.”

He said where it had really impacted their business was in the ability to grow their cellar door.

“It’s more difficult to get a chef and front of house staff.

“It’s been hugely challenging, finding that kind of staff.

“All they’ve got to do is look up the rent prices and see how unaffordable it is.”

In South Wairarapa, the average weekly rent in 2019 was $376 compared with $349 the year before.

Nearby Palliser Estate’s chief executive Pip Goodwin agreed finding accommodation was difficult, particularly in the lead up to harvesting [mid-March].

“It’s not necessarily increasing prices but [also accommodation] availability,” she said.

“At certain times of the year, it’s difficult to get accommodation.”

Goodwin said it impacted seasonal workers more than their front of house and cellar door staff who were mostly university students – “they come back to stay with their parents, so they have homes”.

She thought the issue would only get worse for the region.

Since 2005, Nick Hoskins has run Vine Managers, providing viticulture management and machinery operations to those in Martinborough.

He said in the past 10 years, finding worker accommodation had become an issue, particularly as the number of vineyards in the region had grown.

“I get around the country and I know Marlborough had a similar problem, but they’ve largely built purpose-built accommodation for RSE [recognised seasonal employer] workers.”

The harvest was one of the peak times when this became an issue, he said.

Hoskins said it was easier to find accommodation for large groups than for smaller ones or individual workers but, “a small vineyard needs the same number of labourers per hectare [as a large one]”.

The region was also struggling to attract the same number of backpackers, he said.

Jawl Beary, from BJ Vineyard Contractors, helped oversee this process.

During peak times, she managed from 80 to 200 vineyard workers who were contracted out to about 20 Martinborough vineyards.

Most only stayed about three months but struggled to find housing as many people found it more profitable to rent out their properties as holiday homes.

Beary rents two properties which provide accommodation for up to eight workers.

Others bring their own vans and park at nearby camping grounds or freedom camp.

“It’s a problem because a lot of houses don’t want vineyard workers.”

She said fewer people were interested in vineyard work.

“I think it’s not just about accommodation but finding people to work is hard,” she said.

“It isn’t easy work. You have to do eight hours in the sun.

“For some people that’s too hard and they don’t want to do it.”


  1. They should be looking into employing more local people. My stepson worked on a vineyard and wanted to continue for the picking season, however he was made redundant because of backpackers.

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