‘The jobs are here’

Coonawarra’s wineries are among tourism and hospitality businesses reporting staff shortages in South Australia, a workforce issue that is particularly affecting the Limestone Coast region.

Balnaves of Coonawarra, one of the region’s most highly regarded wineries and a contributor to the SA Tourism Commission’s (SATC) workforce survey, has been on the hunt for workers since 2020.

The winery’s business manager and a member of the South Australian Wine Industry Association Kirsty Balnaves told The SE Voice Balnaves was looking for tractor drivers and cellar door weekend staff.

Ms Balnaves said with wine tastings currently required to be served while patrons are seated, the cellar door needs more staff to provide the level of service offered at the site.

“As of today, we have four to five jobs here,” she said.

“We’re looking for people who are tractor drivers, so basic machinery operators and cellar door staff, which is on weekends,” Ms Balnaves said.

She said people who were friendly, had good people skills and could hold a conversation could work at the winery’s cellar door.

“That’s a skill-set in itself,” she said.

Even with jobs open to Australians across the country, the pool of job seekers is evidently shallow, with Ms Balnaves and others’ concerns backed up by recently released tourism workforce data.

At least 63% of tourism businesses in the Limestone Coast are reporting staff shortages.

A boutique winery that has become a Coonawarra drawcard for fine-dining, Hollick Estates is being especially affected by the staff shortage with a high-skilled position vacant.

The winery, which also participated in the workforce survey, has been looking for a head chef for two months in a role overseeing the restaurant’s kitchen and fine-dining menu.

This often includes degustations that incorporate local and South Australian products.

Ideally, this candidate would have been a head chef before working at Hollick Estates with a minimum of five or more years of experience.

“In fine-dining, it’s not just about the meal,” Hollicks Estates manager Hannah Timms said.

“The first impression of a customer is not just about enjoying a plate of food, it’s how that plate looks, how the menu reads.

“Consistency is key. The head chef needs to be able to serve the same consistently high standard of meal every day.

“It’s a big drawcard of needing someone who is confident, passionate and excited … about the food.”

But when Hollick Estates placed job advertisements for the highly skilled role on SEEK, the winery only received two applications for the head chef’s position.

It has also received a handful of applications directly, but none with the right experience.

“When you consider that SEEK speaks to the whole of Australia … statistically, that is in itself unbelievable with how many Australians are actively seeking work. It’s mind-blowing,” Ms Timms said.

Without a head chef, Hollick Estates’ restaurant has been closed for the past three weeks but aimed to open by adapting its operations.

Another issue is the lack of affordable housing around Coonawarra – and, evidently, across the Limestone Coast – for workers coming from out of town, according to both Ms Balnaves and Ms Timms.

“Housing is a big issue,” Ms Balnaves said.

“This vintage we offered housing to try and get people – we had someone come from Adelaide and we offered a house for them to live in over vintage.”

To add salt to the wound, the regional worker shortage has also contributed to Hollick Estates withdrawing its submission for a tourism award, Ms Timms said.

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