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How to Run and Manage a Vineyard Successfully

Vineyard Business

Do you own a vineyard business and you need ideas on how to grow it rapidly? If YES, here are 20 smart tips on how to run a successful vineyard business.

A vineyard is a plantation of grape-bearing vines, grown mainly for winemaking, but for also raisins, table grapes and non-alcoholic grape juice. The science, practice and study of vineyard production is known as viticulture. Everybody loves wine, but the process of turning the grapes into this beautiful tangy drink can be quite tedious, and it is also financially involving.

In fact, one saying has it that if you want to earn $1 million out of a vineyard, you should be willing to invest $10 million.

And again, the day-to-day of running a winery isn’t easy. In fact, it’s an astonishing amount of work. Grapes are a finicky bunch and need constant attention, large-scale wine production requires a massive amount of land, mistakes while barreling, aging, or bottling can upset an entire vintage.

And then there’s the winery side of things. You need to market your winery, create a space for guests, run the retail side of things, etc. All these are indeed really tough. If you have to do all these work and invest all these money, your first priority should be to make your vineyard successful.

This success will not only be gotten by dint of hard work, but by being smart and applying the right practices. If you are a vineyard owner, here are a few things you need to do to make sure your vineyard turns the required profits as at when due.

Tips to Run and Manage a Vineyard Successfully

  1. Find the best land

When is comes to the vine business, land is everything. The key to owning a successful vineyard is finding the right piece of land. And not any piece of land will do. It is a known fact that good grape growing areas aren’t the easiest to find, or the cheapest.

While a soil test is a good place to start, it is not the only thing to consider. Too much shadow will give you a beautiful green vineyard, but definitely you will not get any grapes out of the bargain.

Having the appropriate amount of water can make or break a deal so be prepared to set up (and pay for) an irrigation system. Temperature is important; frost at the wrong time can destroy it all. So when planning to set up a vineyard, do a good amount of research on the land before buying or leasing.

2. Get the legal aspect and Paperwork Filing sorted out

Like any alcohol, wine is a heavily regulated industry. From how your vines are grown, to the labeling of each bottle, to your winery retail sales and distribution, you must pay careful attention to each step of the process. There are indeed plenty of red tape that comes with the production and sale of wine, and you have to get them all sorted.

Licenses and permissions must be acquired from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The label for the bottle must be approved (also by the TTB). Sales must be tracked and excise taxes must be paid.

3. Use the Right Equipment

One reason commercial vineyards tend to get a better crop load of clean fruit at harvest is the fact that they use commercial grade equipment. You can’t expect a backpack sprayer and a push-mower to compete with a spray rig and a tractor.

That’s not to say that every home vineyardist should invest in commercial farming equipment. But there is a comfortable medium.

If you’re farming an acre or more, you may be asking too much from your hand-powered equipment. If you have more money than time, a small ATV that can be attached to a tow-behind sprayer with an electric or gas-powered pump would be a great investment and time-saver, instead of using a backpack sprayer.

4. Hire a Consultant

There is nothing quite like having a specialist at hand to help you out with the confusing aspects of the business. Quite a number of vineyard managers say that a viticultural consultant is usually expensive, because they often charge between $50 to $100 an hour, and initial consultations may run upwards of $500.

But if you are committed to improving the quality of your grapes and wine, having an expert give precise advice for your specific piece of vineyard property may be the best way to really understand what you are doing right and what can be significantly improved.

The key is to find a consultant that is passionate and knowledgeable — someone who has been responsible for producing grapes and wine that suit your own palate and growing philosophy. You hire a new or veteran consultant depending on your needs, but know that one has more field experience and may be expensive while the other has experience on latest technologies and stuff, and may also come cheap.

5. Timing is everything

If you are in the vine business, you should know that timing is of essence. A grape grower once said, “In farming you are better off doing an imperfect job on time than a flawless job late”.

For example, shoot thinning when the shoots are four to ten inches long is easier, faster, and less expensive than thinning later when shoots are longer. In addition, early shoot thinning results in early reduction in competition among shoots for internal vine resources, causing greater shoot growth invigoration, shoot elongation uniformity, and fruit set.

In a similar manner, leaf removal immediately after bloom has greater disease control and grape quality benefits than later leaf removal, and post fruit set cluster thinning promotes fruit maturation and grape quality more than later thinning.

Sometimes lateness is missed opportunity. For instance, there is no way to compensate for a missed early bloom foliar application of phosphorus, zinc, boron, and molybdenum for promoting maximum fruit set. Likewise, leaves damaged from severe water stress due to missed irrigation cannot be repaired with later irrigations.

6. Set the Perfect Tone at Your Vineyard

To be successful in the wine business and carve a god niche for yourself, you have to set a tone for your vineyard. A vineyard’s infrastructure and equipment are complicated and costly. This will require the majority of your effort when designing the space and preparing to open.

If you have a winery, tasting room, restaurant, gift shop and any other guest space, you must take similar care with them. It can also be a serious revenue stream in and of itself. If you plan to have guest rooms, event space, and wine clubs, your space must be impeccably designed with the vineyard and land around you in mind.

7. Always work with a plan

To consistently implement vineyard practices on time, a grape grower must know what is happening in the vineyard. In addition, he or she must be prepared and know what to do when the time is right. In other words, successful grape growing requires attention to details in vineyard monitoring, production planning, and management execution.

To do this, you need to craft a vineyard management plan. This plan provides a framework for documenting grape growing details. It usually consists of a chronological list of management actions, including regular vineyard monitoring activities.

The plan serves as a guide for your vineyard management team, helping them consistently do the appropriate thing at the right time. On a broader scale, every vineyard endeavor ought to have a comprehensive business plan that includes an assessment of the business environment, objectives for the future, operational plans, and a financial plan.

8. Never be slack, the vine generations suffer it too

It is not only important to do the appropriate things at the proper time, but winegrape growing success also requires they be done year after year. Grapevines, being perennial plants, appear to have memories in the form of carryover effects from previous years. Such effects result from missed opportunities to adequately supply vines with water and mineral nutrients or to regulate crop loads.

Further, vineyards are long-term investments with lengthy return on investment expectations. Soil erosion, declining soil tilth and fertility, accumulating weed seeds, increasing canker disease, and intensifying vine growth variability diminish vineyard productivity and value. Management consistency is the means for avoiding or minimizing these undesirable outcomes.

9. Get your priorities right

There is never enough time to do everything, so start prioritizing in order to do the most important things. What this means is that you first have to know which task is important for you to accomplish to reach your goal, and which can be rescheduled or delegated.

You need to log your tasks before you can categorize them. After you know which activities are important and which are urgent, you can use the matrix which will help you realize when and if the task needs to be accomplished, or not.

10. Learn to Delegate Duties

Working smart means you are focusing on the areas you are really good at – growing grapes and making wine, and letting go of things you’re doing for the sake of doing it. There is no need for you to design your wine label, do accounting, or pick up the grapes yourself. Let somebody else help you with that.

Harvesting is a nice example of the work winegrowers should delegate. Why? Well if you are hand-picking grapes then one or four persons are usually not enough to finish the job on time since there is only a short period of time during which the berries remain within the desired ripeness parameters.

Therefore, either you ask your friends for help, or hire seasonal workers, you will have full hands of work with organizing work and workers, providing the necessary equipment, checking the quantity and quality of grapes, organizing grape storage, etc.

So, in order to be more effective, you have to ask for a help and focus on the tasks only you can do in your winery. Delegate the rest.

11. Organize work and working environment

Organizing work according to your goal setting is very important in order to achieve the desired results. After determination of your vineyard activities, you have to organize your work in a way that’s going to get you toward your goals as fast as possible.

The best way to successfully organize work is to slow down and take time and think before doing the task. This helps to really plan the work process smarter and prevents you from repeating or correcting mistakes. Therefore, think and plan ahead your vineyard work activities in order to perform all of them.

The easiest way is to make a to-do list with all the daily activities that need to be done, remember to focus on the most important tasks first.

You don’t need to use a fancy to-do list, simply use the calendar to schedule your working activities. When making a do-to list and work plan, also don’t forget to schedule a time in the day to make and return most phone calls at a set time, and answering emails, this will also minimize the distractions.

12. Automate where possible

It seems that there is a tech app for almost every aspect of the business, and in recent years due to the awareness of the importance of agriculture several apps support also vineyard way of working, which was not possible only a couple of years ago. Therefore, it’s important to stay up to date with the new technology in the vineyard.

Although it’s not always the easiest way for growers to access to the new technology, it’s often crucial for automating tedious work and save time for more important productive tasks. There are several app and tools out there to help you make your vineyard work easier, find them and put them to good use.

13. Know Your Drinkers

Winemaking is a unique business. Advertising and marketing approaches are varied and you can cater to many different demographics depending on the wine that you produce. The winemaker or owner figures prominently in actually defining the winery itself.

Restaurants, distributors and wine shops always prefer direct access to the owner so that they are as close to the product as possible. Decide early on what type of wine drinker your product will be geared toward once you’re open for business. This will help your winery carve out a niche in a broad and ultra-competitive business.

14. Hire the Best Hands

This is true for any business but wineries require so much hard work and passion that your staff must be an indispensable part of your business. Whether it’s planting the vines, trimming and trellising the branches, harvesting the grapes or creating the first mash, every step of the process is a grueling labor of love. One cut corner can ruin an entire season.

Therefore, hire only reliable and caring people for your winery’s staff. Each person should love the product as much as you do. In addition, define your scalability from the outset. Most wineries must start small and produce less on-site at the beginning. Plan for organic growth that your land, facilities, and staff can handle.

15. Plan Long-Term Goals

Don’t forget that your vineyard is a farm. It will take about four years before your vines will produce a harvest fit for the presses. Farm work is year-round, crops are picky, and the weather is usually unpredictable.

Getting the winery up and running is just the first part of getting your dream vineyard. Setting this up with long-term goals means that the rest of the pieces will more easily fall into place down the long road. So, while making your plan, take the years into consideration.

16. Know the Cycle of Vine Growth

It’s hard to play music without knowing the notes. The structure of your viticultural plan is based on the “notes” inherent in the cycle of vine growth. If you don’t know what to expect from the rhythm of the season, it’s impossible to accurately choose management strategies.

There’s really two ways of understanding the cycle. One is a study strategy — read textbooks and online guides concerning how grapes grow. The other is experience-based: working and observing a living vineyard system for many years and having an intuitive cognition of the rhythm of the entire system.

When should you expect root growth? When should the vines flower? What months do the vines require moisture at root level? At what sugar level is fruit immune to mildew? There’s a thousand questions to be answered, and the more you know the better chance you have of making a decision that maximizes your impact on the vineyard.

The main categories of vine growth are: bud burst, flowering, veraison, ripeness and leaf fall. Shoot growth is generally finished by veraison — a fact that you should consider if your shoots don’t stop growing after your fruit is softened.

If you didn’t understand that shoots are supposed to harden and stop growing at veraison, you would not be able to determine a management strategy for stopping cane growth so the vine focuses more on ripening than vegetative growth.

17. Know the Main Vine Diseases, Pests and Weeds

Being able to identify problems in the vineyard starts with being able to identify and distinguish between species, symptoms and signs of infection. You should endeavour to have a copy of the Grape Pest Management book usually called the ‘bible’.

If your initial search fails to turn up local information, you may need to visit or call some local growers and see where they get their information on local pests, weeds and diseases. Start by making a list of resources that you can use.

Include local growers, nurseries, colleges and universities and local experts that don’t mind being contacted. Under each of these resources, note what can be learned from each. Work down the list carefully and methodically to gain a full understanding of your local winegrowing conditions and challenges.

18. Double Your Pre-Plant Homework

These are operations carried out before you can start planting your grapes. These are called pre-planting activities. They include choosing of site, clearing, stumping, plotting, ploughing, harrowing, and ridging. These activities are carried out to prepare and make the soil conducive for the crop to be planted.

Here’s a list of a few issues that need to be completely researched and considered before you start planting: Soil testing for winegrape production suitability. Extra time should be spent studying how your soil will influence vine vigor.

Will the vineyard be low, medium or high vigor, and how will that level influence your choices for a trellis system? You should note that every hour of homework you put into the pre-plant decision-making process will save ten to a hundred hours of work after the vineyard is planted.”

19. Take advantage of your team’s size

It’s known that in larger teams, time management makes a lot of difference. But time management and work organization make a whole lot of a difference also in small and medium-sized family based vineyards, where owners do most of their work on their own with the help of family members, or with the help of a small number of employees.

At critical times of production cycles (labor-intensive work), the seasonal workers may join in to help, which brings a different type of work to the table. And the latter often presents more work, which is also of a different type, than the work the grower is normally used to.

It seems that there is always something for winegrowers to do, either is it some vine related work or is it managing people and/or equipment, scheduling daily and seasonal activities, fulfilling compliance and paperwork, or just dealing with the most challenging factor – the weather. 

On each of those points, there is some team member who excels. Try to spread the skillset in a smart, uniform way among the team members.

20. Minimize the distractions

Minimizing the distractions at work will increase the possibility to actually finished the job on time. Also if you are managing people or you notice from your time log, that always the same people distract you from work, set the time in a day to deal with them.

In this way, you will be able to take time for them and finish your job on time. While working, you should also learn to do one thing at a time and stop multitasking.

There is a mistaken belief that doing as many things as possible at the same time, will increase the possibility of accomplishing more. Unfortunately, our brains don’t work like that. Switching from one activity to other will actually lower your productivity level by 40%. Focusing on a single task a time enables the brain to get into the work-flow.