CaptureMost of us are feeling a bit liberated now that the 2013 growing season is behind us. But before leaving 2013 to history, there may be important things to learn from it to increase the long-term profitability of your vineyard.

A useful way to begin to evaluate the 2013 growing season is to make a list of things that worked well and things that didn’t work so well. Base the list on honest answers to questions like the following examples.

  • Was early shoot growth restricted, normal, or excessive?
  • Were foliage and fruit balanced after fruit set?
  • Was regulated deficit irrigation entirely successful; sustaining moderate water stress while avoiding severe water stress and heat stress?
  • Were all pests and diseases controlled or did some break out?
  • Was the vineyard effectively monitored for water, nutrient, canopy, crop, and pest management needs?
  • Did the fruit ripen normally or was it delayed? Was the winery satisfied with the fruit?
  • Did the vines finish the growing season with fully ripe canes?
  • Did all vineyard practices or activities appear cost effective or are there opportunities to increase labor, equipment, or material efficiencies?

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This is a modified version of the Mid Valley Agriculture Services November 2002 Viticulture Newsletter.

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The list of answers to the self-evaluation questions will be comprised of successes and areas for improvement. The next step in the vineyard self-evaluation process is to make a list of actions for the next growing season in a column next to the list of answers. For successes the action is simply a reminder of what, when, how, and why things were done. For items in need of improvement the action will represent a change from former practices. Sometimes the way to make a positive operational change is evident and other times it requires research or outside expertise, such as your local UC farm advisor (Paul Verdegall is the San Joaquin County viticulture Farm Advisor).

photoOne of your neighbors or another grape grower acquaintance may have successfully used a practice or material that you would like to incorporate into your operation. This is an excellent way to improve your business (see Matthew Hoffman’s research report about Lodi social network of knowledge sharing), but be cautious. Make sure their vineyard is similar to yours with regard to climate, soil, vineyard design, and other factors that may affect the success of the new input.

Autumn is also a good time to ask larger, more general questions about your vineyard business, particularly if you have started or are about to start a new fiscal year. Appropriate questions may include the following.

  • What type of grapes should be produced: commodity (high yields, low price), quality (low to moderate yields, moderate to high prices), or a combination of the two?
  • Are relations with wineries as strong as they could be or is there room for improvement?
  • Have all opportunities to minimize risk, taxes, and other liabilities been explored and used to full advantage?
  • Are budgets up to date and representative of the true costs of farming?
  • Is projected income based on reasonable yields and current grape prices?
  • Are the costs, revenues, and profitability of individual varieties or management units known?
  • Is the vineyard staff fully trained and ready to meet the challenges of modern grape growing?

A vineyard business plan is the place to formally address all of these concerns. The plan should define the business and include sections addressing strategies, operating plans, financial projections, and assumptions and risks. It should also include ways to measure the success of the plan next year and beyond. There is more to say about business plans, but it will have to wait for another posting.

Below are a number of excellent references on the topic of farm business management”

  • Davidson, D. The Business of Vineyards. pp. 34-35. Davidson Viticultural Consulting Services, Glen Osmond, South Australia. 2001.
  • Davidson, D. Tightening your vineyard business. Australian and New Zealand Grapegrower and Winemaker. pp. 20-21. August 2002.
  • Kay, R. D., and W. M. Edwards. Farm Management. pp. 301-323. McGraw-Hill, New York, 1994.