Virginia Winery Question

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VinesnBines

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If I recall, you planted quite a few varieties to evaluate what works best at your site. What are you happiest with so far and do you have a sense of what your final focus will be across the three acres?
I'm still evaluating some varieties but so far Chelios is hands down the best for me. It is cold hardy, thriving, disease resistant, easy to propagate from cuttings or layering, and prolific. In fact, I have one third year vine that had 38 clusters and I think those were secondary clusters; a second year vine had 15 clusters On the downside, it has to be cluster thinned. In the rest of the reds, Chambourcin is doing well. I have high hopes for Baco Noir but those vines are just second and first year. I'm trying Marquette (second year) but they broke so early that the frost killed off all the buds. I'm most disappointed in Marchel Foch. Although supposedly cold hardy, I lost vines after the May 10 , 2020 freeze and hardly any clusters this year on third year vines. I'm unimpressed with the Norton; few clusters and they look awful despite a diligent spray program.

For the whites, it appears Traminette is at the head of the pack. Cayuga White are doing well too. Vidal is doing pretty good but seem more susceptible to disease. Chardonnel has been a beast to get established but the best vines have a great looking crop.

Vinifera are living but the late frosts have killed off the crops.

Long story/short - we have 1/4 acre each of Chelios (great choice it appears), Traminette (probably a good choice) and Baco Noir (we'll see). I think we will round out eventually with more Chelios, Tram, Cayuga and Chambourcin. Still waiting for warmer Springs to plant more vinifera.
 

Cynewulf

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I'm still evaluating some varieties but so far Chelios is hands down the best for me. It is cold hardy, thriving, disease resistant, easy to propagate from cuttings or layering, and prolific. In fact, I have one third year vine that had 38 clusters and I think those were secondary clusters; a second year vine had 15 clusters On the downside, it has to be cluster thinned. In the rest of the reds, Chambourcin is doing well. I have high hopes for Baco Noir but those vines are just second and first year. I'm trying Marquette (second year) but they broke so early that the frost killed off all the buds. I'm most disappointed in Marchel Foch. Although supposedly cold hardy, I lost vines after the May 10 , 2020 freeze and hardly any clusters this year on third year vines. I'm unimpressed with the Norton; few clusters and they look awful despite a diligent spray program.

For the whites, it appears Traminette is at the head of the pack. Cayuga White are doing well too. Vidal is doing pretty good but seem more susceptible to disease. Chardonnel has been a beast to get established but the best vines have a great looking crop.

Vinifera are living but the late frosts have killed off the crops.

Long story/short - we have 1/4 acre each of Chelios (great choice it appears), Traminette (probably a good choice) and Baco Noir (we'll see). I think we will round out eventually with more Chelios, Tram, Cayuga and Chambourcin. Still waiting for warmer Springs to plant more vinifera.
Thanks for the update! I’m really intrigued by Chelois. You gave a good report of it on your visit to NY and it’s a Seibel variety. In June I visited my wife’s hometown in France and by accident ran into the winemakers I did a day of vendanges with several years ago. Their region, Côtes du Forez, authorizes only Gamay for red wine production but they have some of the few remaining French hybrid vineyards left and produce a wine from Seibel 5455 (Plantet), which doesn’t seem to be available in the US. I was really impressed with it - great balance and actually more perceived tannins than I was expecting and more than their Gamay. Gave me hope for another Seibel variety with good reviews like Chelois. I will probably replace my Enchantment vines next year and the remainder of my Cabernet Francs’ lives depend on their performance against downy mildew this year. I had been thinking of Regent but Chelois might be a nice option, too.

My Marquette breaks a little early, too, but recovered from this year’s spring frost damage reasonably well and I ended up with a decent crop from the secondary shoots on my third year vines. It’s going into its third week of maceration now and tasting very promising.

I think I’ve been most impressed with my Itasca vines. No issues with disease or pests whatsoever and produces some really nice tasting fruit with great numbers. I’m making a gallon right now so we’ll see how it turns out next year.

@cenk57 , what are your variety plans?

Great to have a few more Virginia growers represented here!
 

cenk57

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@cenk57 , what are your variety plans?
I just have a small test plot at this time. Like vinesnbines, I’m looking for varieties that grow good in my area for vineyard expansion. I have Marquette, Vidal Blanc, Valvin Muscat, Edelweiss and Concord. As expected, the concord and edelweiss have performed the best. Neither have had any disease or bug issues. Valvin Muscat is a slow grower for sure, but no disease pressure. Vidal Blanc is growing well, but had moderate disease issues and the Beatles come on to them in droves. Marquette is great! Pretty vigorous growth, very little disease and big pressure. So far, I’m liking Marquette. I may start researching vinefera and throw one in the mix next spring for the hell of it, lol.
 
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Last night I thought about what I'd do if starting a winery, which led to looking beyond the vineyard. My big question is: how good is the market for varietals that are uncommon? Ya gotta grow grapes that grow well, but is the resulting wine a sellable commodity?

It's worth doing market research, both locally and in other areas where Vinifera is not king. Southeast NC is a good example, as Muscadine, Scuppernong, and hybrids developed by the U of FL are the primary grapes grown. I considered growing grapes for myself, but am in a zone where Vinifera doesn't grow and French-American hybrids are not recommended. If I lived 30 miles NE of my present home, I could grow F-A hybrids. This is due to soil and climate.

Wineries are doing 2 things that appear to work: first, they are using mixed marketing, selling some wines by the varietal name, and others by (hopefully) catchy proprietary names. Second, they are covering the market from dry to sweet, and many are acquiring Vinifera to cover that market as well. Actually 3 things -- wineries also sell non-wine goods, such as clothing, candles, and other branded items.

Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards in NY is the poster child for catchy marketing. They sell a wine called Red Cat, a sweet "red" wine made from Catawba and colored with F-A red hybrids. They have a ribald song/chant that starts with, "Red Cat! Red Cat! It's an aphrodisiac!" which is sung in the tasting room. Since the release of the original Red Cat, they have produced numerous versions, including selling a "gello kit" to make jello shots, along with Red Cat branded items (yes, candles!)

A lot of food for thought.
 

VinesnBines

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When I planted my first batch of vines, I had a ton or questions, scoffs and smart aleck remarks about planting so many varieties. Now after two cold Springs with late frosts, a month without rain in September 2019, a wet 2020 and this dry, hot summer, I feel completely vindicated. My vineyard is unique and what may grow 10 or 15 miles away on a river, won't grow in my space. When times are dry, the summer storms skirt around the ridges and miss our farm.

I'm enjoying the watching the different varieties mature and begin to bear fruit (or not). It is like having a big family, everyone is different. And yes, the Japanese Beetle's favorite seems to be Vidal.

Harvest may be a beast but we'll cross that bridge when it arrives.

I've heard good things about Itasca and Briana. I may give them a try. I have just couple Baco Blanc that are supposed to be heavy bearers (6 to 7 tons an acre). No fruit this year so we'll see how they fare in the future. Growing is lot of work and heartache but I love it!
 

VinesnBines

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Wineries are doing 2 things that appear to work: first, they are using mixed marketing, selling some wines by the varietal name, and others by (hopefully) catchy proprietary names. Second, they are covering the market from dry to sweet, and many are acquiring Vinifera to cover that market as well. Actually 3 things -- wineries also sell non-wine goods, such as clothing, candles, and other branded items.

Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards in NY is the poster child for catchy marketing. They sell a wine called Red Cat, a sweet "red" wine made from Catawba and colored with F-A red hybrids. They have a ribald song/chant that starts with, "Red Cat! Red Cat! It's an aphrodisiac!" which is sung in the tasting room. Since the release of the original Red Cat, they have produced numerous versions, including selling a "gello kit" to make jello shots, along with Red Cat branded items (yes, candles!)
Look up Well Hung Vineyards in Virginia. Home Page - Well Hung Vineyard Talk about catchy names. I don't know how good the wines are; I think they use a custom crush. They seem to be doing well with the marketing.
 

Cynewulf

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I just have a small test plot at this time. Like vinesnbines, I’m looking for varieties that grow good in my area for vineyard expansion. I have Marquette, Vidal Blanc, Valvin Muscat, Edelweiss and Concord. As expected, the concord and edelweiss have performed the best. Neither have had any disease or bug issues. Valvin Muscat is a slow grower for sure, but no disease pressure. Vidal Blanc is growing well, but had moderate disease issues and the Beatles come on to them in droves. Marquette is great! Pretty vigorous growth, very little disease and big pressure. So far, I’m liking Marquette. I may start researching vinefera and throw one in the mix next spring for the hell of it, lol.
If you’re looking for a white grape that does well in Virginia, I’ll put a pitch in for Itasca. Since it’s so new there isn’t a lot of info on the finished wines but it’s been great for me so far since I planted it in 2019. Fast growing with a good growth habit and no disease issues at all. Great looking and tasting fruit and I picked some experimental clusters last year at 25 Brix and pH 3.13; this year a bit early at 22.5 Brix and pH 3.12. We’ll see how the wine finishes out but it’s starting out promising and the vines have been super easy. I wish my vinifera was doing better but even with regular sprays it’s been a huge pain to stay on top of the disease so I’ve almost given up.
 
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Look up Well Hung Vineyards in Virginia.
Excellent marketing! Ribald and innuendo can sell!

In the long term, your experimentation will pay off. One thing I noted about a lot of F-A hybrids, especially the reds, is they don't make the best varietal. Blend in small amount of other grapes and you have a much better wine. You have the tools to play with this and see what flies.

I keep in mind something the owner of one winery told me -- she marketed Marechal Foch in the spring, e.g., the 2020 would have gone on sale back in April. Other wineries could not figure out how they marketed Foch so quickly. The secret? 5% Concord. Nope, this wine didn't sell to the Cab crowd, as it had fruitiness not common in dry reds, but it flew off the shelves.

It occurred to me that Baco Blanc might be a really good base for several wines, different blends including a rose. It's a high producer to give you quantity, and if it blends well you've got several labels to cover the market.
 

cenk57

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This kind digressed from the original topic, but this is good. This is part of my long run plan. Most of all the winery's around here offer, for the most part, the same options (Chardonnay, Merlot, Norton, Vidal, Cab Sauv and usually some kind of Chardonnay and Cab Sauv heavy blends). I am attempting to find something a little different to offer and I think the hybrids are worth looking at in Virginia. This topic turned into a long thread on a Facebook group I'm a part of. As I stated in that group, I'd be willing to bet the average VA wine drinker could not tell you if a Vidal Blanc was a vinifera or a hybrid. If they like the way it tastes, I'd also be willing to bet they would not care if it was a hybrid or not. I will also be experimenting with fruit/grape blends this fall. I think they could yield some interesting results.
 
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pool41

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This kind digressed from the original topic, but this is good. This is part of my long run plan. Most of all the winery's around here offer, for the most part, the same options (Chardonnay, Merlot, Norton, Vidal, Cab Sauv and usually some kind of Chardonnay and Cab Sauv heavy blends). I am attempting to find something a little different to offer and I think the hybrids are worth looking at in Virginia. This topic turned into a long thread on a Facebook group I'm a part of. As I stated in that group, I'd be willing to bet the average VA wine drinker could not tell you if a Vidal Blanc was a vinifera or a hybrid. If they like the way it tastes, I'd also be willing to bet they would not care if it was a hybrid or not. I will also be experimenting with fruit/grape blends this fall. I think they could yield some interesting results.
I'm curious if you ever received any more guidance on why you would choose a Farm Winery license over a plain Winery license. The only benefit I see is it allows you up to 5 additional locations to sell your wine.

And, I'm curious about that, too. From a post above, it made it seem with a Farm Winery license that you are allowed to sell ANY wine (i.e. wine other than your own)? If that were the case, could you have up to 5 locations selling any wine without needing separate off premise licenses? Seems pretty counter intuitive for the ABC Board.
 

cenk57

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I'm curious if you ever received any more guidance on why you would choose a Farm Winery license over a plain Winery license. The only benefit I see is it allows you up to 5 additional locations to sell your wine.

And, I'm curious about that, too. From a post above, it made it seem with a Farm Winery license that you are allowed to sell ANY wine (i.e. wine other than your own)? If that were the case, could you have up to 5 locations selling any wine without needing separate off premise licenses? Seems pretty counter intuitive for the ABC Board.
I have spoke with the ABC office about this, as well as researched more. There are a two types of "Farm Winery" licensees. Class A and Class B Farm License. The farm winery licenses have a minimum amount fruit that must be produced by the winery and contained in the winery's product. So, for a class A, 51% of the juice used by the winery must come from the licensees farm. This can also come from a "leased vineyard" at another Virginia located farm (or other clever gimmicks to get around this). The class A license also includes 5 off premises location licenses. My understanding is that these are used at events such as farmers markets and wine festivals. Farm winery's contain a whole code section of limitations.

A "Winery" license is a commercial winery license. Prior to 2019 this license would only allow the licensee to sell to wholesalers. You could not have a retail store or tasting room under this license. There is no minimum amount of juice that must be produced by the licensees vineyard or orchard. They can purchase 100% of their juice from off site vineyards (or use their own if they wish). There are no limitations in the code for this license. In 2019, this license changed dramatically. This license now allows a retail store and a tasting room (a major change). It also allows distillation equipment for fortification. This license still has no minimum juice requirements and no extra off premises allowances (however off premises license are available for a reasonable cost, $145 I believe). There are no limitations to this license, other than those stated above. The code sections regulating this have been completely overhauled effective January 1, 2022 but regulatory changes were minimum to the wine categories.

The vast majority of wineries in VA hold a "Farm Winery" license. This is reasonable as most wineries were established prior to the 2019 change and this was their only option if they wanted a tasting room/store on site. I still cannot find the rational that changed the "winery" license or the intended consequence. I do not see any reason why anyone would opt for a much more restrictive "Farm Winery" license over a "Winery" license. Having the 5 additional off site allowances hardly offset the limitations placed on these farm winery licenses. I am still researching and looking, but I am definitely going the "Winery" route unless I am totally missing something. I am a year or so out from applying.
 

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Thank you. During your research, has the question arisen as to whether having a Winery license (either Farm Winery or regular Winery) permits you to sell only YOUR wine, or ANY wine?
 

cenk57

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Thank you. During your research, has the question arisen as to whether having a Winery license (either Farm Winery or regular Winery) permits you to sell only YOUR wine, or ANY wine?
Both permits allow you to sell wine from other wineries, however, any brand sold other than the licensees brand must be purchased from a "wine wholesaler". This is the case for both types of license's. The code states " [The licensee may] sell wine at retail at the place of business designated in the winery license for on-premises consumption or in closed containers for off-premises consumption, provided that any brand of wine not owned by the winery licensee is purchased from a wholesale wine licensee and any wine sold for on-premises consumption is manufactured on the licensed premises.

You gotta love the Virginia ABC monopoly.
 

VinesnBines

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You really need legal advice. I'm not certain that a non-farm winery can operate as an event venue. That is the real money maker for most small wineries. Also I know the requirements like handicap access is relaxed for farm wineries. Also you need to start about a year out to get all the licenses not just VA ABC but the Fed licenses and locality permits.
 

cenk57

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You really need legal advice. I'm not certain that a non-farm winery can operate as an event venue. That is the real money maker for most small wineries. Also I know the requirements like handicap access is relaxed for farm wineries. Also you need to start about a year out to get all the licenses not just VA ABC but the Fed licenses and locality permits.
I agree. Legal advise may be needed when I am ready to proceed (prob in a year or so). I am also pretty well versed in VA code. I am not an attorney, but I have helped draft VA code and local ordinances in my profession. There is nothing that I am aware that prohibits any ABC licensee from holding an event on their property. The primary purpose of section 4.1 of the Virginia Code (ABC regulations) is "to control the possession, sale, transportation, distribution, and delivery of alcoholic beverages in the Commonwealth". In a nut shell - make sure all alcohol sold in VA is accounted for and taxed correctly.

Having an event on a property (say a wedding or concert) would be mostly a local zoning issue. As far as the ADA goes, that won't be a big deal for me. We will be constructing a new building for our retail/tasting area. So, I plan to comply with that anyway.

A ton of the ABC codes actually change beginning January 1, 2022. One other big change that I ran across is that some of the rules that used to state "farm winery" have been changed to state "retail wine licensees" - to include farm wineries and winery licenses (as they will, as of Jan. 1, be very similar in regards to what they can do at the retail level). I cannot emphasize how HUGE a change this is in ABC code (Sec 4.1). I haven't even finished reading all of the updates myself.
 
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You really need legal advice. I'm not certain that a non-farm winery can operate as an event venue. That is the real money maker for most small wineries.
A fair number of the NC wineries advertise venues. My son's recent wedding was held at a non-winery farm whose sole business is being a party venue. It's a very nice place and well run, and appears very successful.
 

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I agree. Legal advise may be needed when I am ready to proceed (prob in a year or so). I am also pretty well versed in VA code. I am not an attorney, but I have helped draft VA code and local ordinances in my profession. There is nothing that I am aware that prohibits any ABC licensee from holding an event on their property. The primary purpose of section 4.1 of the Virginia Code (ABC regulations) is "to control the possession, sale, transportation, distribution, and delivery of alcoholic beverages in the Commonwealth". In a nut shell - make sure all alcohol sold in VA is accounted for and taxed correctly.

Having an event on a property (say a wedding or concert) would be mostly a local zoning issue. As far as the ADA goes, that won't be a big deal for me. We will be constructing a new building for our retail/tasting area. So, I plan to comply with that anyway.

A ton of the ABC codes actually change beginning January 1, 2022. One other big change that I ran across is that some of the rules that used to state "farm winery" have been changed to state "retail wine licensees" - to include farm wineries and winery licenses (as they will, as of Jan. 1, be very similar in regards to what they can do at the retail level). I cannot emphasize how HUGE a change this is in ABC code (Sec 4.1). I haven't even finished reading all of the updates myself.
Can you post a link to these upcoming changes? I would be interested in reading them. Thank you.
 
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