Sourcing Fruit for Winemaking: Tips for Micro-Wineries When Choosing a Vineyard

Today’s micro-winery has a marked advantage over the larger wineries making supermarket plonk. The smaller the winery, the more select your choices can be when deciding to buy materials and grapes. We go on a field trip in this article, and focus on the vineyard, how to find grapes and things to look for when beginning a relationship with a grower.

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The simple fact of the matter is that, many wine grape growers won’t deal with a micro-winery that makes only a few hundred cases a year. Most vineyards are managed by larger companies that depend on the big purchase – all the fruit in the vineyard grown for one winery, one contract, and very few harvest days.

The most important benefit that micro-wineries have over larger wineries begins with the fact that purchases of grapes will be small (in quantities of 1-5 tons). Owners of smaller vineyards are very likely focused on coaxing the best fruit from the soil, canopy, and the vintage – rather than making more money with more grapes to the acre. They want their fruit to get into the best hands. In other words, they are looking for the micro-winery.

Where do the two meet? One great way is by word of mouth. If you know someone who makes wine, either professionally or for fun, ask them where they get their fruit. The only problem with word of mouth is that it’s a slow game of telephone calls and conversations that might not yield any results.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

My advice, find local growers associations and make a phone call. A simple search online can yield several good resources – for example: YOUR TOWN + GRAPE GROWER should suffice in an extensive list of resources on any internet search engine. Communicate that you are looking for “high quality, small vineyards” and leave your contact information.

More likely than not, the professional organization you speak with will have clients in mind. Additionally, because you have decided to work through a professional organization, it will work in your favor. The grower will see that you are also a professional.

So, the telephone rings, or you get an email from a local grower who is offering you everything you’ve ever wanted. Don’t get overexcited. Look into the wines they are promoting. Taste the wines. Go to the vineyard – early-summer is the best time, around flowering.

There are several things to look for when dealing with a wine-grape grower: where the vines are planted; how the vines are planted; what is the canopy management program; do they irrigate; how old are the vines; what varieties are planted; are the vines grafted on rootstock; are there any recurring problems in the vineyard like mold or disease; are there pests or frequent fires in the area; is the grower competent; are they focused on what you are focused on; do you get along; is the price of the grape within your budget; does the typical harvest sync with your winery program?

Knowing your budget is another very important part of your winery program. Some select small vineyards can charge more because they consistently grow really great fruit. Others charge high prices because their neighbor has a high quality grape growing program, while they themselves do not. Knowing the difference is very important. Typically, the lower the yield of grapes per acre, the higher the potential for quality in the wine. White wine grapes tend to yield higher quantities and retain quality, while red wine grapes suffer if the vineyard is over cropped.