John Petrucci, Petrucci Vineyards

MADEC Harvest Trail Services Manager, Mark McAllister caught up with John and Shana Petrucci from Petrucci Vineyards in McLaren Vale to share their background and experiences in the wine grapes industry.

How did you find yourself in McLaren Vale?

Our family purchased land in McLaren Vale in 1976 and not long after we bought it my father had a fatal accident. We were in Melbourne and initially we thought of not going ahead with the move and foregoing the deposit on the land as we thought it would be too hard without our father who was very much the patriarch. After much family discussion we went ahead with the purchase.

When the move occurred it included my mother, my brother Joe at age 24 and his family, my sister Vicki at 21 and her family, and me at only 18 years of age.  

How has the land developed since then?

Our initial property was 120 acres with only 20 acres developed for vineyards. Over the years we divided the land and established our own vineyards on the property, then more land was purchased and more vineyards developed.

My wife and I built our family home and still live on our section of the original property where we raised our three sons and developed our business. We are very proud of our close-knit family and also that we are well respected within the community we serve.

What was the next step?

We have now been involved in vineyards for over 40 years and for the last 15 years we have branched out into winegrape harvesting. The harvest side of our business was started because we saw a need for vineyard owners, including ourselves, to have our fruit hand-harvested using a contractor that was reliable and professional. During the winegrape vintage, which lasts six to ten weeks from February through to early April, we can employ up to 200 people depending on the season.

On our own vineyards we grow quality A and B grade fruit with steady yields – we don’t overcrop. The vineyards we hand-harvest for ourselves and other growers are of high quality. Both we and our growers believe it is very beneficial for the vines to be harvested by hand and not by machine.

Our workforce also provides pruning services which keeps them busy from May to August.

How has COVID-19 affected you?

The biggest challenge that we faced in 2020 and 2021 was the lack of itinerant workers, especially people on working holiday visas. This group usually forms 70% of our work force but due to COVID-19 we had hardly any overseas backpackers.  It has been very stressful, however we got through the season with hard working regulars and some newly recruited citizens that stayed on and have said they may return next season.

How has MADEC Harvest Trail Services assisted?

MADEC Harvest Trail Services assist to find our casual harvest workers as pickers, bucket runners and supervisors. We have worked with MADEC for approximately twelve years and find that their service is invaluable to us during harvest. Our Harvest Officer, Mark, and his team are always available and work diligently to help us through our picking season.

What I find really beneficial is their advertising and ability to recruit large numbers of workers. They also perform WHS inductions and validate that our workers are entitled to work under their visas, which provides us with a legal workforce ready to go.  We appreciate MADEC keeping us up to date and informed of changes to labour laws and anything else we need to stay abreast of changes. It doesn’t cost us anything to use the service and it is easy to use. It is great for our business.

What advice would you give workers regarding harvest work?

Have a go – it can be rewarding. You meet new people, you are outdoors in the fresh air and see the beauty of the outdoors, including our wildlife, and of course you get paid for your work effort. You will be helping Australian agricultural industries, and farmers are forever grateful for good workers who help bring in the harvest during stressful times.

It is important to listen carefully at the induction so you know what the job entails, and be honest with the employer and discuss any concerns you have with them

However, while there are plenty of opportunities available, make sure you find the right employer who treats you well and all your entitlements are met.

Is there any other advice you would like to share?

As an employer you must always be honest with your employees and treat them as you would like to be treated. Communication is very important and having the right supervisors leading is critical. And it is my belief that the boss of the business should always be seen, and be available for any employee who wants to discuss any issues with them.