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Booty Juice

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In few other business’s would someone spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars starting a venture with no idea as to the quality of their product or their ability to sell it. But such is the wine business in the Central Coast of California. There are hundreds of Vanity Vineyards and Wall Street Wineries here, ranging in size from tiny (a few acres) to fairly big (a hundred + acres). They just jump in hope for the best.

Guys and trains, what can you say? I don’t share the attraction, but it seems pretty common.

Attached here are some pictures of a small vanity vineyard east of Paso, maybe 5 acres, with a small-scale train track and bridge. The cars weren’t visible when I took these pictures in October. His vines were mature, harvested, and tidy so I assume he had a buyer.

Not so for the next one, the guy a few miles away from me with 40 acres of Chard and PN vines adjacent to a well-known vineyard & winery. Peter is a good dude. He also has a major train obsession (vines, not so much) and the money to indulge it. I met him last September at the local vineyard / winery supply warehouse and since I’ve never met a stranger, ended up getting a tour an hour later along with an invitation to pick all I wanted.

Evidently there are 3 remaining steam locomotive engines from the 1800’s of some specific renown for which I don’t recall. One is in a North Carolina Museum, the other two are in his warehouse being refurbished by two full time, very specialized, mechanics with the tools and equipment to make any part or tool they needed.

His vines are only two years old and not tended particularly well, and were being devoured by bees and other critters so I politely declined his offer to pick fruit, but offered to help him with construction any time.

The 10’ dia. pipes aren’t for drainage, they are train tunnels.

There’s an old vnyd / wine biz adage: Easier made than sold.

Some guys give a damn, some don’t. Peter doesn’t seem too concerned.

Nor do many of the the Wall Street Wineries where you pull in through the ego gate, park next to the owners his and hers Tesla’s, and proceed into the opulent Tuscan tasting room with a view into the Potemkin Village “cellar”. The reality of making wine vs. selling wine….

I was helping a wine maker friend harvest some Lodi old vine zin on a small parcel (10 acres) during the 2019 season – a blood bath for growers – for $700 a ton. He was gonna have to leave a big chunk of his fruit hanging that year. But right across the street Gallo was machine harvesting 100+ acres for $180 a ton.

Thanks for looking and reading!


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sour_grapes

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I didn't know trains+vines+foolishness was a thing! Very interesting -- Thanks for sharing.

Can you help me? Could you explain the following paragraph to me like I was a five-year old? (Please!):

I was helping a wine maker friend harvest some Lodi old vine zin on a small parcel (10 acres) during the 2019 season – a blood bath for growers – for $700 a ton. He was gonna have to leave a big chunk of his fruit hanging that year. But right across the street Gallo was machine harvesting 100+ acres for $180 a ton.
 

sour_grapes

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I guess It’s just a semi coherent personal experience of how random and capricious the wine business can be to the small operators.
I think I was confused because I was interpreting the dollar values as "worth of the grapes." And now I think the dollar values may instead be "how much does it cost to pick the damn things." Hope I am getting warmer!
 

VinesnBines

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I think Booty Juice was talking about harvest cost. $700 per acre for hand harvest seems about right. A mechanical harvester will be much less operating cost per acre, not including the investment cost of the mechanical harvester.
 

Booty Juice

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I think I was confused because I was interpreting the dollar values as "worth of the grapes." And now I think the dollar values may instead be "how much does it cost to pick the damn things." Hope I am getting warmer!
Oh I'm sorry I wasn't really sure what you were asking about!

My friend was paying the vineyard owner $700 per ton for the grapes we picked that day, while across the street his neighbor sold (we were told) to Gallo for $180.

Is that what you were asking about?
 

VinesnBines

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Good Lord. No wonder Virginia doesn’t want wineries buying large amounts of grapes of state.
 

sour_grapes

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Okay, got it now! Thank you.

Now I think that my confusion was because your small-parcel sentences were referring to two different people, your winemaker friend and the grower. I was not correctly disambiguating between them. (Wasn't sure who the "he" was in the second sentence I quoted.)
 

Booty Juice

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Okay, got it now! Thank you.

Now I think that my confusion was because your small-parcel sentences were referring to two different people, your winemaker friend and the grower. I was not correctly disambiguating between them. (Wasn't sure who the "he" was in the second sentence I quoted.)

No problem - my communications skills are one reason I became an engineer!
 

Robert R

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That chart apparently lumps accountants/auditors in with finance. Should I be amused or insulted? :rolleyes: Of course I'm hard to categorize anyway - CPA & internal auditor, with my degree in Horticulture. :b
 

Scooter68

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When our kids lived in San Jose and Irvine, we got the chance to drive between the two locations eh,,,, more than I wanted to. (Hated the LA part from Irvine until we hit the Central valley beyond Grapevine.)
Anyway we prefered the drive down OR up 101 over the I-5 and espeically enjoyed the Paso Robles area - going east from to Barstow and back east was the pits and that was the last chance to see something nice. Never stopped at any of the vineyards to wine taste but you could tell the sort of money that was invested in those places.
Sad to see how cheap the big corps get their supplies. Anyone familiar with the history of Walmart and their destruction of farmers and food companies knowes what I'm talking about.
 

Old Corker

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Don’t know if Gallo is on a scale with Walmart but their operation, based in Modesto, CA and about 50 miles south of Lodi, is enormous. My wife installed a phone system for them many years ago.
 

Scooter68

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Don’t know if Gallo is on a scale with Walmart but their operation, based in Modesto, CA and about 50 miles south of Lodi, is enormous. My wife installed a phone system for them many years ago.
Well in many ways the concept applies, and in fact with grapes another element comes into play. As perishable as grapes are the vineyard has to have buyers ready to take the grapes. I don't think they would want to invest in frozen storage hardware in able to wait until they find a buyer that will pay the desired price. Walmart is, yes, even more diabolical. One pickle company had Walmart reps sit down with them and proceed to tell the pickle makers what they were going to make per bottle, no more no less Walmart dictated to them their profits on all sales through their stores. They left no room for discussion or negotiation - it was a take it or leave it deal. What do you say to the biggest retailer in the world?
Gallo has the upper hand in that there aren't a lot of things you can do with those grapes.
I may be wrong about Gallo but big companies play hardball very often.
 

Old Corker

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When we lived in the Lodi area we knew it to be a huge grape growing economy so I’m sure Gallo’s volume was important to them. But there were a lot of boutique wineries that we frequented. No railroads that I recall although there is a very cool railroad museum in Sacramento 40 miles north. Wine tasting was our favorite pastime there. Wether you like wine or not, nobody ever went and didn’t have fun. It is when our love for wine blossomed.
 
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