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Dear Dr. Vinny,
What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of buying grapes for wine production rather than growing your own grapes?
—Dominique, Sonoma, Calif.
I think that the biggest advantage to growing your own grapes is that you get to grow them the way you want to, manage the vineyard to your specifications and make decisions like when to pick without having to negotiate with anyone else. Of course, it takes a pretty big initial investment and upkeep isn’t cheap, but if you know what you’re doing and enjoy it, walking in the vineyard every day gives you a deeper understanding and connection to that land. I joke with some winemakers I know who have their own vineyards that they must know every vine by name.
Owning your own vineyard can also give you an additional source of revenue if you decide to sell some of the grapes. And if you own the vines, you have first dibs on the grapes they produce.
By creating a brand that relies entirely on purchased grapes, you lose some pretty significant control of the most important raw materials you need. If you don’t have secure grape contracts in place, how will you know how many barrels or bottles to buy before harvest?
But purchasing grapes gives you plenty of flexibility, too. This can be helpful in tricky vintages, where you’re not stuck with the vineyard you have, but can purchase what looks best to you. You also may be investing less in labor and equipment and may not need to learn an entire new trade—don’t forget that growing grapes and making wine are two different skill sets.
There really is no right or wrong way, just different business plans. Some wineries that can afford it do both—they own their own vineyards and then also purchase grapes, which gives them consistency as well as flexibility.
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