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
GrapesCalifornia Table Grape Growers Offer Agricultural Scholarships
January 28, 2015
The application deadline for the agricultural scholarships is 5 p.m., Feb. 13. Read More
GrapesNew Wine Hybrid Establishment Cost Resource Available
January 28, 2015
Research from Cornell University breaks down the cost of producing hybrid winegrapes. Read More
BerriesDormant Pruning Tips For Your Berries
January 28, 2015
Proper dormant pruning increases berry size and improves overall health of blackberry and raspberry plants. Read More
FruitsUSDA Forecast Predicts Normal Water Supply For Parts Of The West
January 27, 2015
The Southwest, Sierra Nevada region, and Pacific Northwest are starting the year drier than normal. Read More
Apples & PearsThe Story Of Honeycrisp Is One Of Challenges And Success
January 27, 2015
‘Everything’s different’ in this world of 150 million 40-pound box world of apple growing. Read More
BerriesWhy You Should Be Growing Black Raspberries
January 27, 2015
Amazing health benefits for consumers and production and marketing benefits for the grower make this berry a must-consider option for your operation. Read More
Apples & PearsThe Dark side Of Honeycrisp
January 27, 2015
Growers say there’s a love-hate relationship with America’s darling apple. Read More
The Latest
FruitsUse The Off-Season To Focus On Farm Safety
January 29, 2015
Prevention, planning, and preparedness are essential for all agritainment operations. Read More
FruitsHighlights From The Mid-Atlantic Fruit And Vegetable Co…
January 28, 2015
Bio-control use, media literacy, and disease control were just a few of the topics discussed at the convention held in Hershey, PA. Read More
FruitsUSDA Forecast Predicts Normal Water Supply For Parts Of…
January 27, 2015
The Southwest, Sierra Nevada region, and Pacific Northwest are starting the year drier than normal. Read More
CitrusNominees Sought For Florida Agricultural Environmental …
January 26, 2015
Honor recognizes those developing and adopting environmentally innovative farming practices. Read More
CitrusIncreased Global Trade Opportunity Equals New Threats F…
January 26, 2015
Despite expanding business abroad, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says he's confident in the protocols in place to prevent entry of invasive pests and disease. Read More
CitrusShopping For UAVs? Here Are 2 To Consider
January 25, 2015
Check out a couple of high-flying options from Altavian. Read More
FruitsJiffy Pumped To Introduce New Produce Propagation Syste…
January 23, 2015
PreGro concept to make its debut at Fruit Logistica. Read More
Apples & PearsSurvey: Positive Indicators For Biocontrols In U.S. Hor…
January 22, 2015
Preliminary results of a survey conducted in December 2014 of more than 850 readers across six Meister Media Worldwide titles Read More
Apples & PearsReal-World Solutions Highlight First Biocontrols 2015 C…
January 22, 2015
Topping the inaugural event's marquee are presentations on “Driving Crop Quality and Productivity Using Biocontrols” by representatives from two of the largest produce growing organizations in the country. Read More
Food SafetyStill Plenty On The Plate Regarding Food Safety Moderni…
January 22, 2015
Almost two years after originally being proposed, four revised rules are still being picked over. Read More
CitrusBayer CropScience Launches Latest Insecticide, Sivanto
January 20, 2015
New product delivers precision pest control to preserve the health of plants and protect fruit and vegetable crops. Read More
Food SafetyFood Safety Recall Survival Tips
January 20, 2015
Preparation is critical to ensure a smooth process. Read More
CitrusGrowers Should Stay Grounded When Reaching For Lofty Go…
January 20, 2015
Unmanned aerial vehicles are all the rage. Can and will this technology become a standard tool for farmers? Read More
Farm ManagementEcological Farming Association Conference Nears
January 19, 2015
The 35th annual conference will be held Jan. 21-24 in Asilomar, CA. Read More
CitrusScientists Say 2014 Warmest Year Since 1880
January 19, 2015
Separate studies by NASA and NOAA confirm continuance of long-term warming trend. Read More
Apples & PearsRosBREED 2 Program Focuses On Disease Resistance And Qu…
January 19, 2015
The next generation of the federally funded RosBREED research program uses DNA techniques to deliver varieties that benefit both growers and consumers. Read More
FruitsTable Grape And Tree Fruit Outlook For 2015
January 16, 2015
Barry Bedwell, President of the California Fresh Fruit Association, talks about the state of the table grape and tree fruit Read More
CitrusElevated Expectations For UAV Use In Agriculture
January 15, 2015
Uncertainties aside, many believe unmanned aircraft will find a lasting place in farming. Read More