Vineyard Dreams

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These days, you may be daydreaming about short day trips, local road trip getaways or just enjoying an evening out at a restaurant with your favorite wines and good friends. You may be evaluating your retirement
and sharing time with loved ones near and far. If owning a vineyard was on your bucket list before, it just might have climbed up the rankings as something you’d like to create or be a part of in the future.

Why? Vineyards create a sense of well-being when you walk through the rows of growing vines. The scenery of the vineyard is inspiring all year long as it changes with the seasons. Working the vineyard land gives you a sense of hearty stewardship of something greater.

What if you could make this a reality? There may be ways to entertain this idea with hands-on experience to see if owning your own vineyard is your dream come true. Many aspects are romanticized in the movies and look so dreamy when the winemaker is enjoying a glass of wine right in their own vineyard. What could be better?

The vineyard to barrel experience is a labor of love. Harvest parties may provide a good baby step into the life of winemakers. Many wineries will offer opportunities to their wine club members to stay in onsite tiny homes or lodging facilities so that guests can immerse themselves in the action during the harvest season. Get ready to get up early, slip on your thick garden gloves, eat a hearty breakfast and get to work on that day’s project working on rows of grapes. As the team hand-harvests the fruit, the air will fill with the sweet aroma of wine grapes. Plus, the winery gets workers that paid for the pleasure to work the vineyard!
The dude ranch of today features more intense hands-on vineyard work for five to seven days during all seasons. Winemakers can’t just wait till the magical fruit appears on the vines, as they test, tame and trim their fertile vines to create their ideal harvest in cooperation with Mother Nature. If the rains have been heavy or the winds have been strong, the vineyard is affected. You get hands-on experience checking soil, babying tendrils, pruning the canopy so the sun hits ripening fruit just right. These days can start at midnight if that’s the best temperature for the vineyard work to be done. If your experience includes processing wine grapes into their post-vineyard form, you’re in for a treat, learning how fruit is sorted and destemmed. Which yeasts are going to be used for fermentation? Which barrel should be used? Which blends might work best this vintage? You’re in for a great hands-on experience beyond the regular vineyard tours and tasting series.

The more you invest in any experience, the more you get out of it. Perhaps you have opportunities with your local family-run winery or a favorite destination winery to explore. If you enjoy the above scenarios and feel you have a calling to begin your own vineyard or wine, seek advice from these wineries about their experiences and evaluate your next steps.

Investment in a vineyard is more than buying and planting grapevines. Success begins with soil testing, laying the rows according to water and drainage sources and much more. Selecting appropriate grapevines that thrive in your desired location will be the culmination of time, resources and patience in the process. Start to finish, if you already have the land, it can be five to seven years before the first bottle is produced. Whether you want your vineyard to be a source for other winemakers or if you want to eventually produce your own label, the wine life is truly the life of a farmer first.

Do you have to own a vineyard to be a winemaker? Vineyard owners, depending on their particular grower and winery contracts, may lease their vineyard rows; they manage the rows and you purchase fruit in very small lots. Rather than being responsible for an entire vineyard, you are able to work with small lots of fruit to create wine at your location.

You’ve explored the winemaking process from start to finish and still hold the dream. Cooperative agreements with both vineyard owners and wine production facilities have advantages. Wine production equipment, cellaring, transportation and bottling costs are shared among the cooperative according to use. There are also private wine production companies that will process your wine grapes from crush to bottling. Many winemakers started this way in their garage and found their passion grew to eventually achieve a vineyard and tasting room of their own.

No matter where you are in your dream of being a winemaker or vineyard owner, there are ways to navigate your destiny and enjoy the wine lifestyle as you see it! ■