Whether you are just getting started with your vineyard or are looking for ways to make it run better, these 20 tips will get you where you need to be.
#1. Set Goals Immediately
You don’t need to open a winery if your plan is to start a vineyard. Grapes can be turned into several viable products for the market to enjoy. You can create jams and jellies, make juice or sell table grapes to local stores. You can even make bird food when you start this kind of business. It helps to have a clear vision about what you hope to accomplish early on so that you know what type of grapes to plant or how many you should be growing once the vines start maturing.
#2. Know the Growing Season
The length of your typical growing season will impact the vine choices you have for your property. If you live in a northern climate, then Valiants will grow like crazy for you, but their distinctive flavor is not well-suited to the fermentation process. That means you’ll be producing juice, jam, and jelly. When you select the cultivars for your land, balancing the growth rate you can achieve with your business goals will be a critical component of your overall success.
#3. Prepare the Land
Vines prefer to have a slope available to them so that they have excellent drainage. If you have a slope exposed to the western sun, then you’ll have a better growing experience than if it faces the opposite direction. The warm summer sun is necessary to help mature the fruit and encourage growth. Before you get into a vineyard opportunity 100% of the way, it helps to perform a percolation test to ensure that you have the correct level of drainage available. Planting vines without this certainty could be an expensive investment that doesn’t produce positive results.
#4. Know Your Orientation
Your vines will need to receive the maximum levels of sun exposure that your property permits. It could be an east-to-west or north-to-south planting system depending on your location. If there are any obstacles that would block sunlight, such as a massive tree, then you’ll need to remove that item as part of the preparation process. When there are buildings that cannot be moved as you establish a vineyard, then you’ll need to account for that fact as you prepare the layout of your vines.
#5. Soil pH Matters
Happy vines like to have a soil pH that is somewhere between 6.0 to 6.5. When you live in a northerly climate, that figure can be under 5.0. Testing is necessary to determine if your land has the capability of producing the crop you prefer. Fertilizers and nutrient changes can be of benefit, but ongoing treatments can be a costly experience. You may need to amend your business plan to incorporate hardy cultivars that work with your native soil type, which means the products you take to market could be somewhat limited.
#6. Be Ready for the Pests
Wildlife can do significant damage to a new vineyard in a short period of time. You will need to establish protective fencing for your cultivars immediately after planting them to avoid losses. Deer will do significant damage to your vines if you leave them unprotected. Plan on establishing a barrier that stands at least 6 feet in height to protect them as much as possible. Birds like to pick at the cultivars, so some netting over the top of them during the first couple of years is also beneficial.
Even moles and voles will do damage to the roots of your new vines if given the opportunity, so you’ll need to consider pest removal if those issues exist locally.
#7. Disease Can Be Problematic
If you live in a wet geographic climate, then your new vines will be susceptible to mildew and fungal diseases. You will need to plan ahead of time to determine whether you want to use commercial or organic treatments to treat these issues. It helps to research what disease issues create susceptibility problems in your area, and then you can select better cultivars that have a natural resistance to these specific issues.
It doesn’t take long for fungi and mold problems to kill off new cultivars, even if you protect them against other hazards. Weekly inspections are often necessary during the first year of vineyard establishment to provide the correct level of protection.
#8. Make a Time Commitment
It will take at least 24 months for your vineyard to establish itself before you can begin producing something usable for local markets. Patience is a virtue here, especially if you want to establish a winery as your business. It can be up to four years before you can produce your first bottle. That means you’ll need a significant source of capital to survive the initial waiting period, access to financing, or a side hustle that can help you to bring in some extra cash. Some owners prefer to purchase grapes from other providers until their properties yield fruit as a way to kickstart their business.
#9. Obtain All of Your Licenses
Selling your own brand of wine can be a very fulfilling experience. It can also be one that involves a lot of administrative work. Winemakers in the United States must obtain local, regional, and federal licenses before they can sell in each area. You must also navigate your way through taxation issues in each state because liquor is often approached differently than other products. If you don’t stay in compliance with these issues, the consequences can be significant. Hefty fines, removal of your business license, and other penalties can apply, even if you weren’t aware of the regulations in the first place.
#10. Selling to Minors
If you produce wine at your vineyard, then you will need to be aware of the requirements to not sell products to minors. Many states criminalize the act of selling or supplying alcohol to people under the age of 21 (or 16-18 depending on the jurisdiction) as a way to discourage underage possession and DUIs. The law hopes to limit access by encouraging adults to be careful about who their customers are. Penalties in this area apply to the clerks and the business, and it can even include jail time if the incident is considered significant or severe.
You will want to have your staff go through an extensive training process to ensure they understand the legal requirements of selling alcohol. Even non-alcoholic wine that contains less than a percentage point of alcohol qualifies for this restriction.
#11. You Must Promote Your Brand
Small vineyards are often encouraged to send their products and varietals two grape-related publications as a way to gain brand exposure. The image of a small winery is often based on the idea of tourism, so setting up tasting rooms or wine clubs are crucial steps that can lead toward more success. Almost half of all consumer-direct sales are made at these locations.
These small spots also lead to higher levels of brand loyalty because people tend to stay committed to local producers. If you can let people know that you exist, then they’ll pay a little more to support your business. It is up to you to determine what the final price will be so that you don’t drive them away to cheaper national brands.
#12. Set the Tone Early
A significant majority of your initial efforts to establish a vineyard are going to focus on your equipment and infrastructure. That means your focus must be on the interior design of your space as you prepare to open your facilities. A tasting room, gift shop, and other related guest areas must receive the same level of attention. Your design preferences must extend throughout the entire property while matching your brand message to create a consistent customer experience.
Design all of your spaces so that the land, vineyard, and event areas all feel like a harmonious opportunity to get to know your product in luxurious ways.
#13. Label Approval
Not only do all of your licenses and permissions need to be acquired from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau, but so do the approvals for your labels when you decide to make wine at your vineyard. All of your sales must be tracked when you provide a direct-to-consumer wine-selling experience. That is because there are excise taxes that must be paid in this segment of the industry.
You will want to familiarize yourself with all of the current winery regulations before you open your doors for business. The TTB also provides a wine label information page that offers a breakdown of what needs to be present.
#14. Get to Know Your Customers
A vineyard creates a unique business opportunity. Winemaking can be one of the most rewarding experiences that life offers. If you do not go into this business opportunity with a solid plan to follow, then it can also be exceptionally frustrating. The advertising and marketing approaches that connect with consumers in this industry are varied. You can decide to cater to several demographics at once depending on what you provide to the market, or there is an option to rely on niche products.
The owner of the business figures prominently into the brand and reputation of a vineyard. Distributors and restauranteurs expect to have access to the owner so that there is a closeness to the product to expect. You’ll want to decide what type of wine drinker you want to approach when you start your business so that you can become immediately competitive.
#15. Find Ways to Delegate
A vineyard requires a lot of hard work and passion every day. If you only have a few vines to tend, then it is possible to provide this personally. Once you start measuring your business in terms of acres instead of vines, then you’ll want to hire the best, most experienced staff possible to help with your ongoing work. The branches need trimming and trellising frequently to ensure high-quality grapes become available. Harvesting and creating your first mash can be a grueling workload. Any shortcuts that someone tries to make can ruin the entire season.
It helps to plan for organic growth. Focus on scalability in small steps so that you can expand your facilities in ways that everyone can handle.
#16. Have a Long-Term Goal
You might be operating a vineyard, but it is also important to remember that you are running a farm. That means work is happening on your property all year long. Vines can be picky, so changing weather conditions can ruin a crop when you’re expecting to get some income. It can take a lot of time to establish yourself as an agricultural force in this area, so having small steps to follow toward a long-term goal is often the best approach. If you expect to reach your dreams in a single season, then there’s an excellent chance that you’ll be walking away feeling disappointed by the entire process.
#17. You Don’t Have Time to Relax
Some people decide to start a vineyard because they think that it will add charm and value to the property. They can maybe walk through the fields in the morning, breathe in the fresh air, and then have the wine get made automatically by someone knowledgeable about the industry. Unless you’ve got a net worth of $10 million or more, that’s probably not going to happen. It’s a lot of hard work that you’re paying for at up to $300,000 per acre in some areas. It can take several years before you start seeing some profits, and it always takes more money than you realize to get there.
#18. Planting Takes Time
It takes about 12 months to complete the planting process if you want to develop a vineyard from scratch. Depending on the grape variety you prefer, it can be 4-5 years before you can harvest your first usable crop. Then you’re another 18-24 months away from producing a chardonnay or pinot war, so you must continue with the process.
#19. You Must Sell Out
Even small brands need to attract the interests of wholesale distributors to make a splash in this business. It isn’t the same supply-and-demand industry that you find in other food categories. You might generate a sale to a restaurant with your products, but then the demands of their customers might create a shift that takes you off the menu immediately.
In other businesses, products that fly off of the shelf create an automatic reorder. When you produce food or beverage items from grapes, it’s an entirely different story. Sell your brand to the biggest buyer, and then let them do the aggressive marketing that is necessary to keep your items at the top of a consumer’s mind.
#20. Leverage Social Media
In-person events are an essential way to connect with guests. You must also keep in touch with them in several different areas, including social media. The power of this platform allows you to produce attractive posts that engage your target audience in meaningful ways. You can offer tasting tips, food pairing ideas, or recipes that feature your products. Informing customers of upcoming promotions and events can help to establish solid revenue streams. It helps to plan a calendar for these items in advance so that you aren’t scrambling for content at the last second. If you can outsource this task to someone, then you can focus on your vineyard while the marketer creates interest in your brand.
Vital Winemaking Industry Statistics that You Need to Know
- The average person in the United States will consume almost 3 gallons of wine each year. This figure has been trending upward since 2014. (The Wine Institute)
- 71% of the wine that is consumed in the United States is produced domestically, even though wine is most often consumed at Italian eateries. (Wine Enthusiast)
- 84% of the most famous wine labels in the world today come from French winemakers. (Mordor)
- The U.S. winemaking industry shipped over 403 million cases in 2017, with an estimated retail value of $62.2 billion. (The Wine Institute)
- There are currently about 10,000 wineries located in the United States. About 4,400 of these wineries are located in California. (Statista)
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