How Wine and Cannabis Companies Compete for Top Talent

The job perks from each industry that attract and retain staff

Side-by-side images of a glass of red wine in front of a winery and a glass jar of cannabis
Wine companies are embracing telecommuting, while the cannabis industry offers perks such as relocation assistance. Unsplash

After more than 25 years in the wine industry, Tracey Mason’s work—most recently, as the chief marketing and business development officer for Terravant Wine Co.—felt a bit redundant and unchallenging. So, when an opportunity to work in the cannabis industry—as the chief innovation and strategy officer for CannaCraft—came knocking, Mason answered.

“The jump into cannabis represented a major challenge for me,” she told Adweek. But even more so, “the cannabis industry is super progressive in ways that really matter to talent,” Mason added. “[The industry is] unbelievably inclusive, exceptionally liberal and free-thinking, and it understands how to create a productive-yet-enjoyable work environment.”

Those perks are pulling more workers than Mason from one industry to the other, and may even be forcing wine companies to look at how they can fight to retain or attract top talent.

It makes sense that wine workers would be attracted to (and able to get jobs in) cannabis: Both industries involve large-scale cultivation, points out James Yagielo, CEO of HempStaff, a cannabis industry staffing agency.

“Additionally, most wine country areas are now also recreational cannabis states, so little relocation is involved,” Yagielo said. “And they are both highly regulated industries because of the intoxicating nature of the final products.”

In fact, the recently released ForceBrands’ Wine & Spirits Talent Market Report says “with cannabis on the rise, the [wine] industry is learning to be more progressive in an effort to help capture younger talent,” with perks that honor work-life balance. The report adds that wine companies are also “coming up with innovative solutions” to retain its workforce.

One such solution that Amy Gardner, president of executive search firm WineTalent, has seen wine companies embrace is telecommuting, “especially in places heavily impacted by the cannabis industry,” she said. “Keeping skilled wine professionals engaged and working, whether at the office or remotely, beats having inexperienced people at the office full time.”

While telecommuting isn’t a radical perk at many offices, it might be in the wine industry, which “has a tendency to favor the traditional approach in every respect,” said Damien Wilson, Ph.D., Hamel Family faculty chair of wine business at Sonoma State University.

And, “with a bevy of wine writers and influencers eschewing popular brands, and many endorsing movements towards increased fragmentation of wine as a category—such as increasingly isolating wine by promoting obscure wines at the expense of familiar wines—wine makes itself an easy target as being perceived as frequently regressive,” Wilson said.

On the flip side, the cannabis industry is new, which gives companies “the chance to build a progressive company and culture from day one,” said Karson Humiston, CEO and founder of cannabis recruiting platform Vangst. Progressive perks might include stock options and other profit-sharing opportunities, more PTO days, and production bonuses for cultivators.

But even with its many perks, cannabis companies can still struggle to attract top talent. It is a federally illegal industry, which limits how companies can advertise job listings. For example, Humiston said, Facebook won’t let cannabis companies post jobs in its jobs board—and Google often rejects even paid promotions that mention the cannabis industry.

What’s more, Yagielo finds that it can be difficult to recruit for top managers in cannabis. As he points out, because the industry is so young, “there is a limited number of ‘master’ level employees with five-plus years of legal experience.” (To attract the few that do exist, some cannabis brands will offer them even more perks and relocation assistance, Yagielo said.)

The wine industry’s hiring hurdles are different: An established industry, there are enough qualified candidates to fill its open roles—but it can still struggle to attract talent anyway, said Steven S. Cuellar, Ph.D., professor of economics at Sonoma State University.

“Napa and Sonoma counties are both relatively isolated, low paying, and high cost of living regions,” he said. “While people may commute from Napa and Sonoma to work in the higher paying tech hub of the San Francisco, few will leave the high-cost San Francisco area to work at the low-paying Napa and Sonoma wineries.”

By contrast, he said, “while marijuana producers may not be able to overcome the obstacle that location presents, they can attract talent from the wine industry—and more importantly, from the tech industry—with higher pay.”

But Cuellar believes competition from the cannabis industry will ultimately benefit wine companies—at least in the long term. It “may finally wake up the wine industry,” he said.

As he explained, wine companies have, for many years, benefited from the employment and spending habits of baby boomers.

But now, “with baby boomers getting older and drinking less, wineries are forced to compete for millennial dollars, which are also being spent on craft beer, spirits and legalized marijuana,” Cuellar said. “The wine industry may finally be forced to adopt business practices that other industries adopted 50 years ago.”