Starting any business is a monumental task. And starting a winery or vineyard is certainly no exception. It requires years of saving and planning and years more before you start turning a profit. And these are just the initial steps. Once up and running, a vineyard demands a tremendous amount of work, dedication, and luck. Vines are notoriously finicky: a volatile growing season can wipe out an entire vintage. Keep reading, the rest won’t be so dour. We’ve already gone over some tips on how to run a winery, so today, we’ll go over some of the basics of how to start a winery. As with any job this big, a blog post will necessarily be far from exhaustive, but hopefully, this will give you some ideas or inspire you to do further research.
THE FIRST STEPS
A passion project, such as this one might be for you, is exciting. And that first beautiful glass of wine at the finish line probably keeps you racing ahead. Unfortunately, there are some steps that must be taken early on to ensure that your winery will be a hit.
1. What type of winery will you have?
The first step is determining what kind of winery you’d like to have. There are a surprising number of options here. At the most basic level, there are three levels of production: growing the grapes, producing the wine, and hosting guests at the winery. Many wineries choose some combination of these three. Will you grow your own grapes or order them from farmers? Or a combination of the two? Some outsource grapes for the first few years while the new vines mature. Will you run production yourself? Or you could skip the growing and the production and just host events and sell your delicious wine.
2. Scout potential locations
Your options will be limited if you plan to grow the grapes yourself. Winemaking grapes are fragile and fussy. They grow well only in very specific climates and soils. At this stage, the land could be your backyard or a 2,000-acre farm, but wherever you’re looking, it must be hospitable to your precious grapes. If you plan to buy grapes from existing farms, you’ll be provided more flexibility, though choosing the right spot will be just as critical for your future success.
3. Put together a business plan
Most aspiring vintners will need a loan to get off the ground. A retail business plan is essential for securing small business loans, especially one as substantial as a winery requires. Research is critical at this stage. Don’t be shy: ask other winemakers to share their experience. Based on your location and planned amount of production, ballpark your total expenses and revenue. Here’s a simple example of a winery business plan.
Ok, once you have some of the bigger picture details out of the way, you can focus more on the craft itself. If you plan to buy your grapes from someone else, you can skip to the next section, unless you want to hear about how outrageously difficult grapes can be.
1. Analyze your climate
When do the first and last freezes come? Vines should typically be planted after the last freeze and grapes harvested before the first. How many days of sunshine does your area get? Ideally, temperatures never hit extremes: warmer nights and cooler days.
2. Survey your land
Not only do your vines like PERFECT weather, but they also like slopes. Particularly south facing slopes since those get more direct sunlight. Don’t worry, your fastidiousness will pay dividends in the end.
3. Choose the right soil
As you might expect, vines require a more acidic soil and one that is not too nutrient rich. They prefer to live on the brink of peril in every way possible. Unsurprisingly, most also thrive in rocky soils that drain easily.
4. Determine how many vines you want
Generally, vines should be planted 4-6 feet apart from one another so that they never shade each other. Oh yeah, they hate shade as well. Rows should be about 6 feet apart. On average, you need 20 lbs of grapes to produce a gallon of wine. A healthy vine should produce about 5 lbs of grapes per season. Brush up on your Algebra I and calculate how much wine you’d like.
5. Choose your varietals
There are 6,000 different varietals native to Italy alone. You have options. Some, of course, will not be suitable to your climate, but many will be. Choose vines that will thrive and bear you many delicious grapes.
6. Buy your vines
There are many companies that sell one-year-old vines. These are mature enough to be planted right away and should start bearing fruit in the next year or two. Research different companies and inspect the vines for any signs of stress, fungus or rot. Also be sure that the vines are certified as one-year-old – some purveyors will try to toss in older vines that were not sellable the prior year, and therefore might not do well when transplanted.
7. Plant them!
Dig holes that are about a half foot wide and less than a half foot deep. Set up a basic trellis system to give them support as well. This doesn’t have to be as fancy as those in Napa; some basic wire will do the trick.
So what about the winery itself? No matter what levels of production you’ll be handling yourself, the selling of the wine is your ultimate job.
1. Start marketing early
Winemaking and selling is competitive and entry to the market isn’t as prohibitive as it might seem. It is essential to figure out your niche in the market and how you can uniquely brand yourself.
2. Follow local, state and federal regulations
Like any business that deals with alcohol, you will have to deal with a vast amount of licensing and paperwork. Register your business with the ATF and complete all required licensure with your city and state.
3. Plan for distribution
If you will be growing enough to sell outside of your area, figure out feasible options for distribution. Wine is difficult to please off the vine as well, and needs to be transported carefully.
4. Design the winery and retail space
This can come in many shapes and sizes. And again, it doesn’t have to look like a scene from Sideways. Put thought into the layout of the space and how many people it could host. There are plenty of ways to get creative with some of your retail strategies.
5. Set up a wine club
Wine clubs are an easy way to get people in your doors and promote your product. Most people like to look for guiltless excuses to drink wine and a local club is a perfect one. It’s a good way to integrate yourself with the community as well. Check out this guide to wine tasting club supplies.
6. Just a winery?
Will you have food service or serve other beverages? What about hosting events? Figure out what other areas of operation your small business will be.
7. Choose your winery point of sale system
It would be a shame that after your years of hard work, the actual sale of your product was interrupted by an inferior POS system. KORONA is specifically designed for wineries and is an all-in-one solution. We integrate with bLoyal for any wine club needs and can handle retail and food/beverage sales.
Any Additional Tips on Starting a Winery?
Given the extent of this topic, there is so much we can’t cover in a measly blog post. From pruning to steps of production to storage, wine-making is an involved process, to say the least. Feel free to leave us some of your own ideas on any of our social pages!
And check out our other guides to starting an SMB:
Among other things, Michael writes about trends and tips in retail for KORONA POS. His focus is on bringing small business owners a more holistic approach to growth. In his spare time, you'll find him hiking somewhere in the southwest. Connect with him on LinkedIn.