So Many Decisions
There is an enormous amount of thought that must go into your decision before building and developing an estate vineyard and winery. Doing so in Sonoita, Arizona is even more difficult than most areas. Don't rush your decision. Make sure you are asking yourself the really hard questions - we did not. We often wish we had spent more time doing so. Many questions may not have been answerable at the time, but it's important to establish those expectations going into the endeavor.
Location, location, location - it applies in so many ways. There are many opinions (and science) supporting the importance of geographical locations (soils, water, terrain and cold air flow just to mention a few). In Sonoita, you might consider one or two more. Many wineries are clustered together on Elgin Road. This has an enormous marketing effect due to the fact you'll have 100's of cars driving by your winery every weekend. I believe there are more ideal locations but off-the-beaten-path. This will require you to be creative about directing traffic to your location. I'll discuss this topic in later posts.
To venue or not to venue. We over-looked this very important aspect of the business model. Wine is a social event. Additionally, vineyards & wineries are considered very romantic. These factors have a very unique niche and you must consider this in your planning. If you do not, you'll spend significant time and money retrofitting your establishment to support large group events, festivals, dinners, weddings and potential corporate functions. We are now developing areas on site to support these functions at our winery and in our vineyard.
Grow, buy or sell? Vineyards are now producing volumes of high-quality fruit. All three markets are easily supported and welcomed. As we started, the Arizona wine-grape market was non-existent. Wineries were struggling to get the vineyard up and running while supporting the huge capital requirement of establishing your operation. Nowadays, I believe you can build your winery and develop your wine program (by purchasing grapes) while you develop your vineyard. You may even consider remaining in that model once you discover the difficult path of building, growing and maintaining a vineyard in Sonoita, Arizona.
I had no idea! I considered myself to be very savvy about farming and the work associated with it. My family owned and operated very large farms in Colorado. It was back-breaking work as a young man. Large equipment and automation have drastically improved a farmer’s lifestyle…but still very long days: 16-18 hours a day is not uncommon. I once read that 1 acre of grapes equates to 500 acres of traditional farming. That was probably the most accurate statement I came across during my research, but I have determined it to be under-estimated. So just remember, a 15-20 acre vineyard is an enormous undertaking.
Who’s doing the work? Be careful of what you expect of yourself. The labor force in Sonoita is extremely limited, you might even say non-existent. Throw into your calculations the needed skilled laborer to run equipment, prune vines, mix and spray herbicides, fungicides and maybe pesticides…and you quickly run out of options. Based on your budget and ‘other’ revenue streams, you’ll find yourself needing to do the work yourself. Although it’s extremely rewarding, it’s the most back-breaking work you’ll probably ever accomplish. Be careful about your expectations. Operating 2-3 acres, producing about 500 gallons of wine and running the business (and all of its facets) can be very doable by yourself. Just be aware, if you throw in a vineyard manager, winemaker, tasting room staff, marketing, sales (the list goes on), you'll find your adjusted bottom line unpalatable.