Wine-grape production discussed at the Farm Science Review
By Kevin Dye
In the last four years, Ohio has seen the amount of wineries grow from 124 in 2008 to 171 in 2012.
That has created a shortage of wine grapes available and has opened up opportunities for those interested in wine-grape production.
Ohio State University extension specialist and associate professor Dr. Gary Gao said that wine-grape production can be a good way of diversifying farming operations. Gao presented the Wine Grape Production program at the Center For Small Farms at the Farm Science Review on Wednesday. Gao said that Ohio wineries are more than eager to find Ohio grapes for sale.
“We saw a trend that a number of wineries in Ohio kept going up and up and now we have 171 wineries in the state,” Dr. Gao said. “Most Ohio wineries are looking for locally grown grapes for their wine production.”
Gao sited the most important factors to consider when starting a new vineyard are the site selection and the type of grapes to grow.
Things to consider when selecting your site for your vineyard are the climate, winter temperatures and spring frosts, the topography and the type of soil and its drainage.
“You need to know your climate and know your soil before you select grapes,” Dr. Gao said. “Most soil in Ohio does not drain well and grapes need very good drainage.”
He recommends a tile drainage system for the soil for the grapes, but admits that it can be costly. “Soil drainage is more than just the slope, which is only surface drainage,” Dr. Gao said. “Grapes need good depth drainage to be successful. Drainage tile is the best solution, but the cost is very high.”
To start a new vineyard, Gao suggests that you start with one to five acres of land. You should check your average winter temperatures and the timing of spring frosts. That information will help in the selection of grapes for your vineyard. The selection of grapes for your vineyard is very important to your success in starting a vineyard. You need to strike a balance between grapes that can grow in your temperature range and location and still be grapes of high quality to a wine producer.
There are three types of grapes that will succeed in Ohio. Native grapes like Concords and Catawba can easily grow in Ohio, but they are more suited to grape juice and jams and jellies. French-American hybrids are usually cold-hearty grapes that work well in Ohio vineyards. The Venifera grapes are a premium quality wine grape with a European origin. The downside to these grapes is that they are not very cold-hearty for most of Ohio and will suffer damage below –10 degrees.
“It is worth the risk to try and use Venifera grapes if you can, due to the higher quality grape which yields higher costs,” Dr. Gao said.
Gao said that there are also new French-American hybrids like Noiret, Regent and Traminette that have been introduced recently and that Traminette looks particularly promising as the grapes have a high demand and bring in a high yield.
When you have decided on the type of grapes to plant, Gao said that it is important to purchase your virus-indexed plants from a reputable nursery. He said you can propagate your own, but you must make sure to follow plant patent laws.
There are challenges to wine grape production such as weather conditions, fungal diseases, birds and wildlife, weeds, labor costs and the high cost of labor. Gao said that the typical vineyard start-up usually takes three years before the crop really gets going and by the fourth year growers can expect a full crop of grapes. The typical farm that decides to grow wine grapes, do so as a side income and therefore can wait for the vineyard to establish itself. An individual would need several acres to make grapes a full-time paying crop.
Dr. Gao said that fungicides are very important for the success of your vineyard and he highly recommends using a product like Mancozeb to control fungus diseases throughout the growing process.
Still, wine makers are very eager to buy wine grapes from local growers, because the grown grapes are easy for them to turn around for a profit as a high quality wine.
“There is some money to be made on the vineyard side,” Dr. Gao said. “But, there is much more money to be made on the winery side.”