Planting Grapes

As the year draws to a close and you begin thinking about adventures for next year, you may be telling yourself, “Gee, I’d like to own a vineyard.” Before you embark on this adventure, there are a few things you should consider.

If what you really want out of a vineyard is the ability to place a bottle of wine on the Thanksgiving table with your label on it to make your brother-in-law jealous, don’t go into farming. There are far easier ways to make your brother-in-law jealous. Farming is not for the faint of heart, and growing wine grapes is particularly challenging given their temperamental nature.

If you’re determined to move ahead with your vineyard project, the first thing you’ll have to do is buy land. You have three choices: buy a producing vineyard, buy an ailing vineyard and work to restore it, or buy land and plant a vineyard. Much of the local orchard land has been converted to vineyards, so that’s an option. In Mendocino County, our appellations have continued to gain the notice of those in the know in the wine world. So from that perspective, planting grapes locally could be an excellent investment.

Many factors combine to determine whether you’ll succeed or fail, but you can get started on the right foot by buying the right piece of land. Vineyard elevation, irrigation, slope of the land, and type of soil will all dramatically affect your farming success, so before you purchase any land, do your homework. For example, did you know that cold air sinks? So, as counterintuitive as it seems, vineyards at higher elevations can actually stay warmer than valley elevations. This is important when it comes to frost protection. If your vineyard isn’t positioned well or if the contours of the land cause cold patches where frost can form, you’ll be up at all hours of the night and you better be sure to have a good water source ( a pond either filled from a high producing well or riparian rights from a river).  In this valley, you’ll get lots of advice about which land to buy and how to manage your vineyard, solicited or not. If you have questions, I’d head to the Farm Bureau and talk to Devon Jones. If she can’t answer your question, she’ll know who can.

Once you’ve found the perfect plot, you’ll probably need a loan. Locally, American Ag Credit and Savings Bank of Mendocino County can help you. If you buy land and plan to develop it, you’ll need to figure out which type of grape to plant. Just so you know, you can’t simply go to the farmer next door and ask for a few cuttings to get you started. Grape varietals have copyrights. You have to purchase vines from a reputable source (one who will provide the patent and copyright certificate) or risk paying fines for stealing someone else’s creation.

If you are as enthusiastic as ever about owning a vineyard, please remember you’ll put in long hours, getting up in the middle of the night when the frost alarm sounds or working until the grapes are in before the rain forecast for the following morning. There will be years when the crop is abundant and the prices are low, and years when the crop is small and the prices are high. And then there will be the year when your crops are good, the prices are high, and your tractor breaks down.

Be prepared for all of it. However, since you can look around Ukiah and see many prospering vineyards (and farmers), it may be worth it. Grape growing is an integral part of life in Mendocino County and our economy. I wish you luck with your vineyard!

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

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