During springtime in the Okanagan, the smell of grape flowers attracts bees and employees alike. And some of the latter take extra steps to prepare because they have either not been in the job market for a while or they are just about to start a new seasonal adventure. Leighton, David, Stan, Barbara, Dave and Gord, although mighty veterans of the work force, still have to prep for this burgeoning season.
Born in Toronto, Leighton arrived in 2013 for his retirement, bringing with him years of experience as a librarian, but none in wine. In his late 60s, he wanted to stay connected to the public while also staying active. With little knowledge and experience, he jumped on the wine train and got involved at Saxon winery in Summerland. Now, “…I do about everything here: bottling, filling forms, answering clients’ requests. It keeps me active and in relation with what is around me,” says Leighton. “I don’t need to work but, since I started, I am truly enjoying it!”
Similarly, David, found the wine industry welcomed him. “Well, I did not know much about wine, but I applied and they hired me,” says the affable 64-year old. “…and I love it. Serving happy people makes me joyful and I’ve learned a lot about wine. I am paid to do something I like …just part time, I am sort of retired, you know.”
The wine and spirit industry has also expanded into the hospitality industry in the form of guided tours. This is where you will find Stan, hired three years ago by a local company. Sixty-nine, at the time, he was freshly fully retired when a friend offered him a tour guide job for her company. “I was bored and getting impatient, ask my wife! But honestly, I did not know much about the industry, my background was in construction, which I did all my life,” says Stan. “When my friend called, she told me what I needed to do and I jumped at the opportunity. I am driving the bus around, working two days a week, having a good time with wonderful people.” Invigorated by his current job, Stan says, “this job is like finding money on the street.”
Some of the employees do not need to work. While others, like Barbara, 62, work extra time. An entrepreneur and wine connoisseur, she is maintaining three jobs in order to rebuild her finances. “Working in the wine industry is fascinating, but I decided to keep it to three days a week. Then, I can enjoy developing other interests and rebuilding a career in the finance industry,” she says. After a day of pouring wine, Barbara will often meet clients to sell financial plans.
Most of the folks working behind the counter are dedicated to their post-retirement jobs and loyal to their employers. Many will work one or two seasons at the same winery.
Dave is not ready to retire. His younger wife still works full time, so with a plan to stay engaged, he took his chances on the wine industry. “Coming from a fast-pace environment in Calgary, Cedar Creek winery was the perfect job for me: close to my home; full time; and a bit of a slower pace than what I was doing. I know darn well that during winter, the hours will be way less,” he says, “bringing me closer to a full retirement.”
Like Dave, Gord is not ready to retire completely. When he walked away from his policing career in Winnipeg, he did so with the goal of slowing down and reducing his stress level. “…funny enough, I found myself driving mini-buses as a tour guide. It is way less stressful than being a police officer, but there is still some stress,” he says. “I love meeting all those happy tourists. This is a real treat.”
A career retirement doesn’t necessarily mean retiring from fun or meaningful employment, either to stay busy or make a few bucks. Like the vines from whence their pay cheques originate, these reliable, loyal and skilled employees will bring the heat during the high season to deliver an outstanding experience to their clients. Come chilly weather, like the grapes, they too will go dormant for the winter.