Starting Your Own Winery

Just about every wine drinker I know has an occasional dream to start their own winery. They could make exactly the wines they enjoy, spend all day wandering through the vineyards, sit on the back porch and enjoy the fruits of their own labor. They could have people flock to them from far and near, sipping and laughing. Life would be simple, and easy.

Is this your dream? If so, then first, I have a riddle for you, that I have heard from just about every winemaker I know:

How do you make a small fortune in the winery business?
Start with a large fortune!

Running a winery is VERY expensive. You don't run a winery to make money. Most wineries are "funded" by their owners for the first 5-10 years - and then when they start to earn extra money, that money goes right back into the winery. Here's the issue. You start with grapes that are brought in, that you have to pay for. You have to have a basic block of equipment to even get started - the carboys, fermentation tanks, bottles, corks. If you go with oak barrels, those can cost a few hundred dollars per barrel - and they don't last forever.

If things go well that first year or two, you begin to think about planting your own vines. You can spend thousands of dollars determining what the right vines are for your soil / climate / etc. Once you plant the vines, they take 3 years to start bearing fruit. If you get hit with a frost, pest plague, or if the vines simply aren't a good match for your area, they can die off - meaning you start all over again.

In the meantime, if the winery does well, you now have to buy bigger tanks, more barrels, a bottling line system, and then all the presses / sanitizers / drainage systems to handle your incoming grapes. There are always more things to buy.

We have visited hundreds of wineries over the years, and rarely are the winemakers sitting around, sipping their wines. Usually they are knee-deep in grape must, or out in the vineyards pruning the vines, or crawling into the tanks to sanitize them. Most winemakers I know have far more work than they can do in a day, and they have to prioritize and pick-and-choose which tasks are most critical. The only time most of them can think about taking a day off is during January-March. This is when the fermentation from the fall harvest is usually done, and the wines are sitting in tanks or barrels. Even during this time, the tanks and barrels need to be checked every few days to ensure the temperature is right and that there aren't any bacterial problems developing.

I'm not saying that a winery isn't fun! I've had this dream myself and have almost gotten into the winery business a few times. It is just a TON of work - every day. It is hard labor, walking through the vineyards, pruning stems, lifting barrels, climbing up ladders to get into equipment. The winery needs to be spotless, otherwise bacterial problems can literally happen overnight. There is a ton of scrubbing, cleaning and sanitizing to be done. Especially if you have any hopes of going organic or even semi-natural - the key is to keep everything very clean, so that you don't have to resort to harsh chemicals to undo the damage of an invasion.

Your best bet is to find 4 or 5 winery owners in your state and talk to them first. Every state in the US (and most countries in the world) have 4 or more wineries in operation. You can learn how friendly your local government is to wineries, what issues there are to face, what vines grow well, what temperature issues there are with wine growing. No external person can possibly give you a better set of information than your own, local winery owners. After that, it's a matter of getting your hands on that large fortune - or finding someone to loan you one - and giving it a try!

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All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.