Tips To Improve Grower And Winery Relationships

Hans Walter-PetersonThere’s an old joke in the vineyard world that goes something like this:

Question: “What’s the biggest pest in the vineyard?”

Answer: “A winemaker.”

While it’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek, there is sometimes a hint of truth in it as well. In many cases (not all, certainly), the only communication a grower has with a winery purchasing his fruit are when they agree on how many tons of which varieties will be purchased, and just before harvest when deciding on when to pick the fruit. In some cases, winemakers will require that growers implement practices that have little to do with the quality of the crop. Like extra crop thinning because they read reviews from wine critics who are convinced that low yields always improve quality, or restricting certain spray materials at a random point in the season based on not much more than a gut feeling.

This is not to say growers are completely innocent of the charge of being an occasional thorn in a winemaker’s side, however. There are certainly things growers do from their end that frustrate winemakers too (e.g., “What do you mean you can’t take these extra 4 tons of grapes I put on the truck without telling you?”).

All of this is to say that, as we approach the beginning of another harvest, both growers and winemakers need to take responsibility for their business relationship so both parties better understand each other and benefit from that relationship. Here are just a few suggestions to help make that relationship work better.

Meet out in the vineyard during the season. The week before harvest should not be the first time that a winemaker steps into a vineyard where he is buying fruit. Mid-season discussions can help to deal with potential issues before the stress and chaos of harvest sets in. Discuss ways to manage a particularly vigorous block, for example, carrying a higher crop load to keep the vines in better balance and actually produce better fruit in the end. Or, what the expectations are regarding sprays closer to harvest in order to keep the fruit in good condition in the vineyard near the wooded edge where pest pressures are heavier in some years.

Be open to each others’ questions and concerns. Winemakers focus on making wine, and growers focus on growing the grapes. It’s hard for a winemaker to know the ins and outs of grape growing, and vice versa. Helping each other understand what is really important in order to meet your goals is critically important, so spend some time giving, and receiving, a little education.

Growers: Be the winery’s best supplier. In the end, the grower is a supplier for the winery, just like those that sell bottles, corks, labels, etc. As a grower, think about what makes you prefer a particular supplier over another — good communication, a reliable product, timely delivery of exactly what you expected. At some point, if you can’t deliver what they want, they’ll find someone else.

Each party has needs and expectations as part of a business relationship — be sure to spell those out before harvest kicks in. Take the time to listen to questions, and have conversations about how you can help address any issues they might have. It’s probably helpful to write those down ahead of time. Hey, that sounds like a contract. Bingo.

A Word on Contracts
Many growers and wineries, particularly in the East, rely on handshake agreements when it comes to grape purchases. While handshake agreements can certainly work, having a written understanding of what is expected of each other — a contract — can be valuable. A contract can clarify issues like tonnage, price, quality parameters, payment schedules, etc., all of which I have heard disputes arise over during and after harvest. Having a contract does not mean the two parties are in an adversarial relationship, nor does it mean that there is no flexibility regarding the contract’s terms should something need to change. Contracts allow both growers and wineries to decide on and spell out their business relationship, making sure that all of their needs are met.

Keep the pest management efforts focused on things like powdery mildew and grape berry moth. The winemaker (or the grape grower) should be a partner, not another pest you have to manage.

Resources For Winery/Grower Contracts
Contracts Between Wineries & Growers from Chris Lake, Director, Southern Oregon Wine Institute, Umpqua Community College
Sample Harvest Contract from Bruce Zoecklein, Assistant Professor and Enology Specialist Department of Food Science and Technology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Be sure to consult your own legal representative before entering into any contractual obligations.

Topics: , ,

Leave a Reply

3 comments on “Tips To Improve Grower And Winery Relationships

  1. I think this about sums up the debate between wineries and growers. They both think the other is trying to screw them over. Usually not the case, but that seems to be the perception.

Fruits Stories
Geotextiles being installed.

Photo: Jim Willwerth
Grapes
February 5, 2016
Geotextiles Can Help Prevent Winter Grapevine Damage
Although Northeast and Midwest grape growing regions have so far been spared from extreme cold this year, the winters of Read More
The canopy of the vines that received the under-canopy sprinkler irrigation just on hot nights during heatwaves appear to be healthier than the control vines and have a higher yield.
Photo: Michael McCarthy
Grapes
February 5, 2016
Researchers Test New Method To Mitigate Vine Heat Stress
The use of evaporative cooling in vineyards during hot weather isn’t a new concept, but researchers in Australia are testing Read More
Biocontrols USA 2016 logo
Crop Protection
February 5, 2016
Register Now For Biocontrols Conference 2016 Field And Greenhouse Tour
Space is limited, so register now to attend the first-ever Biocontrols USA 2016 Conference Field and Greenhouse Tour. Following the Read More
La Crescent produces a good quality white wine with apricot-like flavor. The off-dry, sweet white wine pairs well with appetizers, seafood and chicken. La Crescent has excellent winter hardiness with moderate disease resistance that requires a standard spray program.
Grapes
February 4, 2016
Northern Grapes Project Fuels A Market For Cold-Hardy Grapes
 There’s a burgeoning market for cold-weather grapes. The Northern Grapes Project, funded in 2011 by a USDA National Institute of Read More
two glass goblets of olive oil
Citrus
February 4, 2016
Can Olive Oil Grease Skids For Florida’s Slipping Citrus Trade?
Researchers, interested growers help launch new industry. Read More
money
Citrus
February 3, 2016
Syngenta OKs Buyout By ChemChina
Deal valued at more than $43 billion; Syngenta management team to stay intact. Read More
UFGem peach variety
Farm Marketing
February 3, 2016
Florida Peach Marketing Order Fails
Growers don’t meet 65% approval needed for passage. Read More
The Latest
Fruits
February 6, 2016
Best Research Is Industry Driven [Opinio…
Like many of you, I’m not crazy about a lot of government programs. It’s not that their genesis isn’t noble; God Read More
Fruits
February 6, 2016
RosBREED: A National Effort To Improve T…
The project focuses on improving disease resistance and fruit quality through better genetics and breeding. Read More
Berries
February 5, 2016
Moving Beyond Methyl Bromide With Biofun…
Editor’s note: University of California Farm Advisor Mark Bolda will present much more information on this topic at the Biocontrols Read More
Crop Protection
February 5, 2016
Register Now For Biocontrols Conference …
Space is limited, so register now to attend the first-ever Biocontrols USA 2016 Conference Field and Greenhouse Tour. Following the Read More
Citrus
February 3, 2016
Syngenta OKs Buyout By ChemChina
Deal valued at more than $43 billion; Syngenta management team to stay intact. Read More
Citrus
February 3, 2016
Historic Rainfall Hampering South Florid…
El Niño express delivering floods, uncertainty for crops. Read More
Fruits
February 2, 2016
EPA Releases List Of Products Labeled Fo…
Agency gives recommendations on products to protect hives against parasites. Read More
Fruits
February 2, 2016
California Fresh Fruit Association Names…
Issues such as water, labor, and food safety top the 2016 priorities. Read More
Fruits
January 26, 2016
Student Loan Debt Impacts Us All
Whether you’re at the dusk or dawn of your career in agriculture, it’s important to pay attention to the Young Growers Success Act. Read More
Fruits
January 26, 2016
Phytelligence Is Breaking The Rootstock …
New technology developed at Washington State University can help growers access in-demand rootstocks. Read More
Food Safety
January 25, 2016
Antimicrobial Wash Reduces Risk Of Patho…
The product is USDA certified organic and is expected to be used in commercial flumes and rinse tanks that wash fresh produce. Read More
Citrus
January 23, 2016
Too Much Cheerleading Has EPA In Deep Wa…
These days, far too often, elected representatives of the people are abdicating their responsibilities to federal agencies. The result is rules like WOTUS. Read More
Citrus
January 22, 2016
It’s Official: 2015 Was Earth’s Wa…
NASA, NOAA analyses reveal record-shattering statistics regarding global temperatures this past year. Read More
Citrus
January 21, 2016
Chance Of Profits Up For Growers Tuned I…
UF/IFAS study confirms how paying attention to the 10-day forecast can affect a farmer’s bottom line. Read More
Fruits
January 20, 2016
Penn State University Releases Update On…
Trees in dormancy have a specific chilling requirement to meet. Read More
Citrus
January 20, 2016
Agriculture Agents Intercept Invasive Be…
Notorious wood borer hitched a ride in a container of cucumbers arriving from Costa Rica. Read More
Citrus
January 20, 2016
USDA Report: Pesticide Residues Not A Fo…
Following monthly samplings, survey finds more than 99% of products sampled fall below EPA tolerances for pesticide residues. Read More
Citrus
January 19, 2016
Let’s Raise A Glass To FloridaR…
Challenges with unique solutions are needed to make the agriculture sector stronger. Read More
[gravityform id="62" title="false" description="false"]