As an experienced grower, you likely already have a good grasp of your pest and disease management program, your general fertilization strategy, and your vineyard management and labor.
But when you’re unsure about what to do when your vines start to age and your business needs to simultaneously expand and grow, there are three major challenges that you need to overcome as an experienced grower.
1. Premature vine decline
Premature vine decline is common for vines aged eight through 13. When we think about the age of grape vines, we often think of these romantic images of vineyards that are 100 years old.
Well, it’s more and more common that we’re seeing vineyards replaced and more of a 20-year lifespan for many reasons.
Most likely culprits:
- Diseases of the trunk (ex. grapevine trunk diseases)
- Soil-borne diseases that affect the roots
- Virus or grafting issues (viruses that can infect grapes that either come with the vine material or were introduced by insect vectors after the vineyards have been planted)
There are also non-biological factors that cause premature vine decline, such as:
- Poor pruning practices
- Failure to establish healthy vines during the first three years
- Wrong choice of variety or rootstock
- Improper planting
- Lack of vine care
- Catastrophic weather events beyond our control
What to do:
- Address issues early in the life of the vineyard.
- Prioritize healthy vineyard establishment practices.
- Proper pruning and training of vines (ex. retain proper wood size, minimize large cuts)
- Plant the right variety and rootstock for your soil and region.
- Balance the structure, scale, and size of the vine
2. Marketing your brand and selling your fruit
Growers will inevitably need to develop methods to market and promote their brands in order to sustain and expand their business. In newly established markets, a grower may be able to sell all their grapes and they may even be able to name or set the price for their fruit. But that can change as the market expands.
What to do:
- Stand out among the other growers or vineyards in the region. Find out what makes you unique and what makes your grapes better than the others.
- Position yourself as worthy of the price increase you’re going to demand.
- Start developing strong relationships early in the establishment of your vineyard. The person pouring wine in the tasting room someday should also know who you are, and that you’re a part of the story of the wine that they’re pouring.
3. Scaling of your vineyard for future growth
Small vineyards are almost never profitable in the long term as a business. And growth is often necessary in order to keep the scale of the equipment, the labor costs, etc. in line with the income that you’re going to receive from the fruit.
The size of the equipment and the size of your crew may not fit the scale needed to sustain the business. In some cases, you also have to expand the vineyard acreage in order to retain your in-house talent or to be able to rationalize hiring a vineyard manager or a small team.
What to do:
- Have a clear plan in place as to how you’re going to stand out and keep and maintain a high standard.
- There may be a need for new equipment (ex. larger spray tank, a second tractor, hedging machine) and scaling your equipment for your long term business needs is essential.
- It’s nice to have additional work to keep your crew busy and to mechanize certain labor in order to have multiple activities occurring in the vineyard at the same time.
If you want to learn more about the three common challenges for experienced grape growers, check out vineyardundergroundpodcast.com/005.