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
Apples & Pears
August 15, 2017
Wet Weather Breeds Phytophthora in Young Apple Plantings
Crown rot, root rot flourishing in very wet growing season. Read More
Agritainment
Citrus
August 15, 2017
New Conference to Shine Spotlight on Central Florida Agritourism
Education and interaction part of UF/IFAS-led agenda. Read More
Biocontrols Conference
August 14, 2017
Biocontrols: The South African Fruit Growers’ Perspective
While insect and disease pressure differs from U.S., South African fruit growers say education and slow transitions make for successful integration of biological products. Read More
Fruits
August 14, 2017
Spotted Lanternfly Quarantine Expands Again
Pennsylvania receives $3 million from USDA for outreach efforts, control measures for this invasive pest. Read More
Crop Protection
August 11, 2017
Do Fungicide- and Insecticide-Treated Seeds Boost Weeds?
The University of New Hampshire has received half a million dollars to investigate if seed treatments inadvertently protect weed seeds from its usual predators. Read More
Citrus
August 11, 2017
Field Scouting Guide: Common Lambsquarters
Take a look at these tips for identifying and treating this pervasive weed. Read More
Farm Management
August 10, 2017
Climate Change Drives New Healthy Soils Program
California offers farmers grants to improve soil health; new program is funded by cap-and-trade auction revenue. Read More
Jose Dubeux and Mack Glass talk farming in a Florida forage field
Citrus
August 9, 2017
Florida Farming and University Extension Grow Hand in Hand [Opinion]
Learning is a two-way street to success in the field and the lab. Read More
Apples & Pears
August 9, 2017
2017 Washington Apple Crop Down Slightly
Forecasted harvest predicted to be 131 million boxes, down 1.2% from 2016. Read More
Citrus
August 9, 2017
Traceability Products to Help You Track Produce
One way to ease the process of a food safety recall is by having detailed records of where each crop has been and who has touched it. Look over these traceability products using the latest technology to help you stay on top of your records. Read More
Flooded farm field in Florida
Citrus
August 8, 2017
Drought-Busted Sunshine State Still on the Dry Side
Despite prolific periods of precipitation, parts of Florida remain under water shortage warning order. Read More
GenNext Growers
August 8, 2017
Winegrape Society Awards $100,000 in Scholarships
American Society for Enology and Viticulture bestows awards at its 68th national conference. Read More
Fruits
August 7, 2017
Inaugural Organic Grower Summit Attendee Registration Now Open
Only 22 booths remain for exhibitors at the trade show, which is scheduled for Dec. 13 and 14 in Monterey, CA. Read More
Citrus
August 7, 2017
New Funding Available for Agricultural Technology
USDA announces $400,000 to support ag science entrepreneurs. Read More
Fruits
August 6, 2017
Western Growers Supports U.S. Appeals Court’s Chlorpyrifos Decision
Organization says original decision was based on sound science and applicable regulatory procedures. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
August 19, 2017
More Grants Distributed in Honor of Nati…
National forage program is scattering seeds from New York to California to celebrate pollinators. Read More
Citrus
August 17, 2017
How Wicked Will Winter 2018 Be in the U.…
The 200th edition of the Farmers’ Almanac reveals wide-ranging weather patterns and events that would require everything from shovels to shorts. Read More
Fruits
August 15, 2017
California Nurseryman Settles With Feds …
John Duarte admits no liability but will pony up more than $1 million in civil penalties and environmental mitigation fees. Read More
Citrus
August 15, 2017
New Conference to Shine Spotlight on Cen…
Education and interaction part of UF/IFAS-led agenda. Read More
Biocontrols Conference
August 14, 2017
Biocontrols: The South African Fruit Gro…
While insect and disease pressure differs from U.S., South African fruit growers say education and slow transitions make for successful integration of biological products. Read More
Fruits
August 14, 2017
Spotted Lanternfly Quarantine Expands Ag…
Pennsylvania receives $3 million from USDA for outreach efforts, control measures for this invasive pest. Read More
Crop Protection
August 11, 2017
Do Fungicide- and Insecticide-Treated Se…
The University of New Hampshire has received half a million dollars to investigate if seed treatments inadvertently protect weed seeds from its usual predators. Read More
Citrus
August 11, 2017
Field Scouting Guide: Common Lambsquarte…
Take a look at these tips for identifying and treating this pervasive weed. Read More
Farm Management
August 10, 2017
Climate Change Drives New Healthy Soils …
California offers farmers grants to improve soil health; new program is funded by cap-and-trade auction revenue. Read More
Citrus
August 9, 2017
Florida Farming and University Extension…
Learning is a two-way street to success in the field and the lab. Read More
Apples & Pears
August 9, 2017
2017 Washington Apple Crop Down Slightly
Forecasted harvest predicted to be 131 million boxes, down 1.2% from 2016. Read More
Citrus
August 9, 2017
Traceability Products to Help You Track …
One way to ease the process of a food safety recall is by having detailed records of where each crop has been and who has touched it. Look over these traceability products using the latest technology to help you stay on top of your records. Read More
Citrus
August 8, 2017
Drought-Busted Sunshine State Still on t…
Despite prolific periods of precipitation, parts of Florida remain under water shortage warning order. Read More
Fruits
August 7, 2017
Inaugural Organic Grower Summit Attendee…
Only 22 booths remain for exhibitors at the trade show, which is scheduled for Dec. 13 and 14 in Monterey, CA. Read More
Citrus
August 7, 2017
New Funding Available for Agricultural T…
USDA announces $400,000 to support ag science entrepreneurs. Read More
Fruits
August 6, 2017
Western Growers Supports U.S. Appeals Co…
Organization says original decision was based on sound science and applicable regulatory procedures. Read More
Apple Grower of the Year
August 4, 2017
Road Trip Provides Hands-On Educational …
A visit to orchards in Upstate New York became a learning experience when my mom came along for the ride. Read More
Crop Protection
August 3, 2017
Can Avocados Be Saved from Deadly Laurel…
Scientists from Florida and California are on the case and collaborating. Read More