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"When there is plenty of wine, sorrow and worry take wing."
Ovid, "The Art of Love" (8 A. D.)


The Winery Dream


Would you start a winery?

Many people have that dream.  There is some mystique about owning a winery that seeps into the thoughts of men and women as they work at other professions.  I suspect the dream of most of us pictures the owners as the grand patrons, sipping wine on the veranda and smiling at the admiring customers, perhaps helping out in the tasting room from time to time and showing up at banquets to accept awards.  That is a great dream, but I think you will find few examples of new wineries like that. 

Wineries require hard work.  There might indeed be compensating advantages to tending the vines and making the wine, but there should be no doubt that anyone starting a winery from scratch should expect years of difficult times to achieve success.  The old saw is that the way to make a small fortune in the winery business is to start with a large one.  Unless your income and living are secure, plunging blindly into the winery business is probably a good way to go broke.

Yet there are people who not only have that dream, but make it become a reality.  Some are wealthy owners who deserve their success, but let's not talk about them today.  Others are people who work in the industry and achieve reputations that allow them to get commercial backing and support; let us put them aside as well.  For the purpose of this article, we will just speak of those who start with hope and a vision, but little else.

I think these people fall into two classes.  The first would be those who work their way up through the inside route, working in vineyards and tasting rooms, learning as they go, but without the access to funds and backing.  The others would be the true amateurs, the people with little or no background who decide to change their life and do.

We live in New Jersey, far from the wine country of the West Coast.  We have met many wine owners as we toured tasting rooms and wineries over the years, and a fair percentage of those fit this profile.  I remember hearing that the owner of Baldwin Vineyards in New York had commuted 100 miles for years while he got his vineyard established.  Down in Cape May just now a new winery is opening, Turdo Vineyards, where the owner has had a career as a plumber.  In central New Jersey, a group of people have started Silver Decoy.  We can spot others up and down the East Coast.  In many areas, farmers who see their existing markets as too difficult are switching to vineyards and starting wineries because they wish to keep their traditional farm lifestyle and see a way by making wine.  It seems to be a vision of where people want to move their lives and careers.

The prime reason this has become possible is the Farm Winery movement of the 1970s and 1980s.  Laws dating back to the repeal of Prohibition severely restricted the number of wineries in a state, or made it virtually impossible to start one.  In New Jersey, the limit was one winery for every one million residents.  Farm wineries allow a way around this.  Essentially, a Farm Winery license allows a winery to produce wine and sell it through a small number of outlets.  In return, the winery must grow a substantial percentage of their own grapes (since it takes years for a vineyard to produce, there is a period of time to accomplish this).  Freed from the constraints of restrictive law, small wineries began to blossom everywhere East of the Rockies, until there was at least one in every state.

To get back to our question, would you start a winery?  I ask because we get a fair number of questions about it here at the Weekend Winery.  This month, I noticed two interesting indications that it must be even more common a thought than I had believed. 

Unionville Vineyards (not far from the Delaware River, a little above Trenton) is running a class in Viticulture on the 15th: two hours in the classroom, one in the vineyard, limited to 20 people.  There are not that many wineries currently open in New Jersey.  Who are the people going to that class?  Do they simply want to run a few vines out in the backyard, or do they have a vaster dream?

Today, May 1, there is a pig roast and barrel tasting at "Make Wine With Us" a wine-making school in Jersey City.  I do not know a thing about that school, but isn't it amazing that there is a wine-making school in Jersey City? 

As I think about it, I know of other places within the New York metropolitan area where wine-making supplies are sold.  They seem successful, so there must be a hobbyist presence to support them.  Something makes people want to experiment with this, and I suspect deep inside there is a little winemaker in those people, telling them they could make the next big Cabernet or Merlot if only they had the start. 

So what do you think?  Would you start a winery?

 Last modified: August 07, 2007