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

GrapesThird Straight Record Crop For Washington Grapes
September 19, 2014
Numbers expected to climb as more vines planted in the state. Read More
GrapesFrench Winegrowers Face Higher Labor Costs
September 19, 2014
French wineries may come under added financial pressure as the government considers imposing social charges on wages paid to harvest workers with short-term contracts. Read More
FruitsFlorida Fruit & Vegetable Association Seeks Fresh Approach To Marketing
September 17, 2014
New partnership bolsters Fresh From Florida program. Read More
CitrusFDA Announces Cooperative Agreement To Implement National Produce Safety Rule
September 17, 2014
Agreement will provide information to help plan and carry out the produce safety rule in partnership with state regulatory agencies. Read More
Apples & PearsCanneries Hope To Encourage Growers To Grow Pears For Processing
September 15, 2014
Higher wholesale prices offered as means to boost canning pear acres. Read More
BerriesBotrytis Gray Mold Pressure Increasing With Humid Weather
September 15, 2014
Michigan State University researcher offers tips to reduce the spread of spores. Read More
Fruits5 Mistakes You May Be Making With Your Orchard’s Website
September 15, 2014
These deadly sins may be hurting your customers’ experience — and costing you money. Read More

The Latest

FruitsFlorida Fruit & Vegetable Association Seeks Fresh A…
September 17, 2014
New partnership bolsters Fresh From Florida program. Read More
CitrusFDA Announces Cooperative Agreement To Implement Nation…
September 17, 2014
Agreement will provide information to help plan and carry out the produce safety rule in partnership with state regulatory agencies. Read More
FruitsDeadline Nearing For Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistanc…
September 15, 2014
Fruit growers who suffered losses due to frost or freeze in 2012 could be eligible for assistance through USDA’S Farm Service Agency. Read More
Fruits5 Mistakes You May Be Making With Your Orchard’s …
September 15, 2014
These deadly sins may be hurting your customers’ experience — and costing you money. Read More
FruitsSuccess And The Not-Top-100 Grower [Opinion]
September 15, 2014
Innovation isn't only happening at the top. Some of the most interesting ideas in the fruit industry are being executed by small growers. Read More
FruitsAmerican and Western Fruit Grower’s 2014 Top 100 …
September 13, 2014
The nations’s largest growers reflect how technology, innovations, and promotion help make their businesses run more efficiently. Read More
FruitsSolve This Grower’s New Planting Problem
September 12, 2014
American Fruit Grower’s advice forum focuses on solving your problems and issues that arise in business and the growing season. Read More
FruitsUSDA Needs Your Help In Tracking Brown Marmorated Stink…
September 11, 2014
Researchers seeking voluntary information to track how pest overwinters. Read More
Crop ProtectionGiant Snail Threat Spreading In South Florida
September 10, 2014
Dangerous invasive pests found well outside Miami-area hot zone. Read More
EquipmentJohn Deere Announces Changes To 5M Utility Tractors
September 9, 2014
Enhanced operator experience, serviceability, performance, and comfort, are among the new features. Read More
Crop ProtectionStockton’s Timorex Gold Biofungicide Receives EPA Reg…
September 9, 2014
This broad spectrum fungicide can be used in rotation or in a tank mix. Read More
FruitsSmaller Stores Taking Greater Market Share Of Produce P…
September 9, 2014
Drug, dollar, and convenience stores sales increased 7.1%, 2.0%, and 1.4%, respectively, while perishables at grocery stores decreased by 2.6% in 2013. Read More
FruitsStrategies To Prevent Secondary Pests Following Sprays …
September 9, 2014
Penn State University researcher offers guidelines and control strategies for minimizing the impacts on mites for the next season. Read More
CitrusFMC Acquires Cheminova
September 9, 2014
Transaction expected to close in early 2015. Read More
CitrusSouth Florida Wet Season Receives Slight Respite
September 9, 2014
Reports indicate most areas around the region received below average rainfall during August. Read More
FruitsHigh Demand Drives Tree Fruit Rootstock Shortage
September 8, 2014
Nurseries struggling to balance continued demand for nursery stock and resources as fruit plantings continue to climb. Read More
FruitsImproving Water Management Techniques
September 8, 2014
Improving groundwater management and managing salinity are a couple tactics growers can use to cope with the effects of the drought. Read More
Farm ManagementStay One Step Ahead Of Legal Challenges
September 8, 2014
Don’t get caught up in easily prevented legal troubles from a lack of planning. Read More