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USRC report analyzes cost of starting new vineyards



7.29.2008

By STEPHANIE JORDAN
Associate Editor

It’s no secret that with more and more wineries coming online in Maryland, there is a higher demand for Maryland-grown grapes.
So the Upper Shore Regional Council (which consists of Kent, Queen Anne’s and Cecil counties), with assistance and support from the Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industry Development Corporation (MARBIDCO), Maryland Grape Growers Association and Maryland Wineries Association, studied the increasing interest in vineyards and brought in a vineyard management company consultant to help determine what the region could do to encourage the bourgeoning industry.
The result is a report that was recently released by the USRC, filled with cost analyses in starting a vineyard and recommendations for the area.
Jack Steinmetz, director of the Kent County Office of Economic Development, said he is pleased that the report is complete, and now the regional collaboration can go forward.
“This is an enormous first step,” he said. “It’s the first step in a long process. There’s a lot resting on it. The neat thing about this — it impacts this area for 50 years, 100 years.”
Jennie Schmidt, MGGA president, said that interest in establishing more vineyards will hopefully bring in more wineries, and at that point, a wine trail could be established to bring in more tourists.
Currently, there are five wineries in the Upper Shore (three wineries in Queen Anne’s County, two in Cecil County and none in Kent County).
Schmidt also said that more wineries are slated to come online across the state, which will put the state in a situation that makes it even more grape-deficit — for every one ton of Maryland-grown grapes used by Maryland wineries, another one and one-third tons must be imported from other states.
And since it takes years to establish a vineyard, the state’s new and already established wineries will have to import even more grapes before the new vineyards can produce enough grapes to meet the demand.
But, it’s something that brings a great deal of positive economic growth to the region, Schmidt said.
“Over time I think (the report) will have a positive impact on viticulture in the Upper Shore,” she said. “It’s a matter of time and a period of growth over time. It’s a growth curve that the region goes through but will provide long-term benefits.”
The next step, Steinmetz said, was to survey all the people who attended a seminar earlier this year, which talked to interested parties about establishing or expanding a vineyard through a vineyard management company (VMC).
More than 60 people attended, although many of them attended as couples or partners.
Thirty surveys were returned, and according to the report, the respondents said “they currently had a total of approximately 37 acres of grapes planted in the region, but that they were interested possibly planting an additional 190 to 250 acres with the help of a VMC.”
Now, Steinmetz said, the list of individuals interested in establishing a vineyard through a VMC grows weekly. And that helps to establishing a probable market of folks interested in using a VMC.
“This accomplished more than has ever been done in the state relative to projections,” he said.
And the next key, Schmidt added, is to “make sure those folks are still interested now that they know the costs. We want to see how many of these folks are ready to commit — how soon and how many acres.”
She said there are still issues that will have to examined, such as a small labor pool, but there are some great benefits to be had, especially by wineries that operate vineyards.
Having a VMC manage the vineyard will give them more time in the winery. VMC also could provide a valuable service to someone interested in having a large volume of acres in a vineyard, but it’s “probably not beneficial to someone who just wants a couple of acres in their backyard.”
Steinmetz said the Upper Shore region has the benefit of learning from other areas of the country, particularly the Long Island, N.Y., area, where the VMC consultant was from who hired to come in to assess the feasibility of establishing a VMC company.
The Upper Shore is at the same point Long Island was 25 or 30 years ago.
“This would not have been possible without support from MARBIDCO, the three counties and John Dillman at the Upper Shore Regional Council,” Steinmetz said. “This truly was a regional effort. It shows what can be accomplished on a regional basis when you really want to do something.”
Below are excerpts from VMC consultant Stephen Mudd’s report to the USRC. Mudd is vice president of Mudd Vineyards Ltd. in Southold, Long Island. He visited five vineyards in the area, spoke with various county officials and presented the VMC concept to those who attended the seminar earlier this year. To review the full report, contact the Kent County Office of Economic Development at 410-778-7434.
• I have a concern about the labor available in the area to perform the many necessary tasks a VMC needs to do in a timely fashion.
• I felt that some of the regulations in the state of Maryland created real barriers for the industry. ... Maryland wineries should be able to sell their products directly to restaurants, especially as this is where their profit margin is greater, and liquor stores so as to promote more of the local products. I can only suggest that all players involved in the industry, wine producers and grape growers, join the state Farm Bureau (if not already members) and find a “farm friendly” elected official to lobby for some of these unfair laws to be changed.
• Rows 600 feet to 800 feet in length seem to work the best. In my opinion, I think it’s wise to have wider row widths in your area to increase air circulation and help dry the vines off from the dew in the morning.
• I suggested to growers to make better (cleaner) pruning cuts, not to leave a lot of “dead” spurs on the cordon. ... I would also try to develop the trunks of the vines to be as straight as possible to eliminate tractor and equipment damage in the future.
• My feeling is that white varieties would possibly be more successful than the red varieties because of the additional constant heat night and day as compared to the western part of the state where there is more elevation.
• At this time, I would suggest that a VMC be created and start by consulting at a rate of $100 per hour, port to port, for current and future vineyard owners to visit the sites to assess the condition and establish a baseline for future planting.