It is easy to assume that wineries maintain their own grape gardens in much the same way some meat factories maintain stocks of animals.
In reality most wineries not only outsource most of their grapes, but may rely on other facilities for work such as aging or bottling as well.
This is because winemaking is a heavily involved process, from gathering grapes to fermenting and bottling finished wine. Having multiple facilities can allow each station to focus on and perfect a specific aspect of winemaking. This article will discuss each type of facility, how they connect, and why they are often separated.
What Facilities are Needed to Make Wine?
The process of winemaking requires three specialized types of facilities, vineyards, wineries, and wine cellars. Each of these facilities is designed to handle a different aspect of winemaking, and while they can all be part of the same compound or company, most locations will only handle one or two parts of the winemaking process.
Vineyards are farms or plantations designed to grow large amounts of wine grapes for the production of wine. Which grapes are produced and the quantity of grapes are determined by the terroir of the vineyard. Terroir is a French term meaning ‘sense of place’ or ‘location’, and refers to the geological, climatological, and other environmental factors of the vineyard.
Different strains of wine grape need different terroirs to survive, although some can be grown across multiple terroirs. Vineyards also require mechanized equipment, growers, and viticulturists to help in the labor intensive process of maintaining, harvesting, and shipping grape crops to wineries.
Wineries themselves specialize in turning grapes into wine, often following the process from juicing to fermentation. Unlike vineyards, wineries do not have to be as selective when it comes to choosing locations or terrain, since most facilities are indoor structures that can be climate controlled with modern technology.
Wineries often use a mixture of mechanical systems and physical techniques to juice, store, and ferment wine grapes. This requires not just equipment and manpower but the right chemicals and scientific understanding to transform grape juice into wine, making this perhaps the most involved part of winemaking.
Cellars are a much simpler facility, and most times are attached to a larger winery for convenience sake. Cellars are where wine is stored for long-term aging so that it can develop a more complex and balanced flavor. Aging is essential to creating most wines, as even the freshest vintages require some time to chemically settle after fermentation.
Cellars do not require as much physical labor, since wine is simply stored and left to age for a set period of time. Cellars do, however, require strict environmental controls, unique aging barrels, and a knowledge of aging procedures. If wine is not properly stored in the right environment and goes bad, all the work of the vineyard and winery will be for nothing.
Why don’t Most Wineries Grow Grapes?
Most wineries will outsource their grapes to some extent, even wineries with attached vineyards may supplement their grape supply by purchasing more from nearby vineyards. This is especially true for larger facilities that either produce or use large amounts of grapes, and so need to move grapes quickly to stay active.
The primary reason most wineries do not grow their own grapes is because of the cost of maintaining vineyards. Vineyards need to be tended both by growers and by mechanical growing equipment to maintain a good yield, and this care must be constant throughout the planting, growing, and harvesting season.
Maintaining a vineyard is expensive, especially considering that if a winery grows their own grapes, they will not see a profit until they finish making and selling their wine. The entire winemaking process can take years, and fronting the expenses for both a grape plantation and a winemaking facility while waiting until the wine is sold to make money is just too expensive.
Vineyards must also be set in specific appellations, or areas where grapes wine grapes thrive in the local climate. Thanks to climate control systems a winery can be built almost anywhere, so long as grapes can be transported to it quickly, but wine growing land is limited, expensive to buy, and even more expensive to maintain.
In contrast, independent vineyards can make money by selling their grapes to wineries, meaning the vineyard makes a quicker profit and only has to pay for their own work. At the same time a winery that buys grapes only has to pay for winery equipment and other certifications, while profiting off the sale of their wine.
By breaking up each step of the process, each step becomes more profitable and quicker, since growing, juicing, fermenting, and aging wine can take years before a finished bottle is ready to be sold. With each facility being its own, separate entity, they see fewer expenses and more profits quicker than one large facility trying to manage the time and money costs of winemaking.
A key part of this process, however, is knowing how to reliably source good wine grapes from a nearby grower. Grapes do not last long once separated from the vine, so wineries are better off buying grapes from reputable local growers. The best vineyards often maintain their own grape labels, some of which are actually more famous than the finished wines they produce.
It should also be noted that not all wineries maintain tasting areas, tours, and other interactive customer features. These amenities require extra licensing, regulations, and effort on the winery’s part, so not every vintner is eager to spend more time and money if they do not believe tourism will help their business.
Which Wineries do Grow Grapes?
While most wineries prefer to outsource the costs of growing grapes, there are some smaller wineries that will grow their own grapes. This is because smaller wineries, particularly those who specialize in fresher vintages, can afford to maintain both grape and wine production for their facilities.
Farm wineries are the essentially grape farms with small winemaking facilities attached to them. They generally make and sell wine on the premises rather than moving their wine to be sold in stores. This is still an expensive process, however, so many farm wineries supplement their income with wine tourism, tastings, and other amenities.
Microwineries, like microbreweries, make extremely small batches of wine for local sale and consumption, greatly lowering costs but also restricting market reach and profits. Like farm wineries, microwineries rely somewhat on their tourist appeal to draw in customers who are looking for interesting vintages.
Some larger wineries in more scenic areas are able to maintain vineyards by relying on tourism as a second source of income. These wineries invest in tasting rooms, restaurants, wine trails, merchandise, on-site wine sales, and other amenities to draw in tourists. In this way having gorgeous, well maintained grape crops can be beneficial to a winery interested in tourism.
It might be strange to see a winery that does not grow or maintain their own wine crops, prompting some wine lovers to ask why wineries do not grow their own grapes.
Wineries do not grow their own grapes because grape growing is an expensive and time consuming process. Breaking up parts of winemaking between grape growers, vintners, and sometimes cellar owners, allows each individual to make more money quicker without having to pay for extra facilities.
Some wineries, usually smaller facilities or more scenic wineries in grape country, will maintain their own vineyards. These vintners usually offset the cost of running their own wineries with tasting rooms, tours, and other features for guests.