PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Alejandro Avalos has been cultivating wine grapes in the Willamette Valley for 8 years.
He began working for Montinore Estate in 2012. Since then, Avalos worked his way from crew member to vineyard supervisor. He knows firsthand the hard work that goes into the job.
“It’s hard work, but I love agriculture,” he said. For him, it’s a growing passion.
“I grew up farming with my family and I want to pursue my viticulture knowledge and hopefully own a small vineyard,” Avalos said.
Beyond tending to grapes, Avalos is tending to his future, with the help of local non-profit AHIVOY (Asociación Hispana de la Industria del Vino en Oregon y Comunidad) .
“AHIVOY empowers vineyard stewards to move forward in the wine industry,” Sofia Torres-McKay, the owner of Cramoisi Vineyard, said.
In 2019, Torres-McKay co-founded AHIVOY, along with Miguel Lopez of Red Dirt Vineyard Labor, Jesus Guillen the late winemaker for White Rose Estate and Guillén Family Wines, and Guillen’s wife Yuliana. The organization was founded on the idea of empowering vineyard workers in areas like wine education and professional development training.
“90% of the people that work in the fields are Hispanic and it is important to give them this opportunity and the tools and knowledge,” McKay said. “I always tell them education is the foundation to grow and improve their lives.”
In partnership with Chemeketa Community College in Salem, the non-profit developed a 16-week English-immersion professional training program for students, like Avalos, to enhance their technical skills and learn different aspects of the wine industry.
“They offer us different ways to look at the wine industry…viticulturist, sales, winemaking, marketing,” Avalos said. “Not only do we learn from the instructors at AHIVOY, but we also from each other, the students, we share ideas and personal experiences and we gain a lot from that.”
The non-profit helps cover student tuition expenses and wages during the time spent training, trimming down obstacles that Hispanic and Latinx vineyard workers face, so they can pursue their ambitions.
“We wanted to create diversity in all levels in the industry.. not only in the vineyard.We are around maybe ten Hispanic winery owners or winemakers in the whole Willamette [Valley] so we need to give them an opportunity or at least just that knowledge,” Torres-McKay said. They are here not only through the pandemic, middle of fires, and they’re here working, picking our grapes under these challenging times so we really have to appreciate and recognize their hard work.”
“AHIVOY is there for that extra push to help us empower ourselves. It’s really important to us and it shows that we feel appreciated,” Avalos said.
If you are interested in supporting AHIVOY or enrolling as a student, please contact AHIVOY.