Farming Tips for Grape Growers in North Carolina

Find your dream farm at Legacy Farms and Ranches of North Carolina

Find your dream farm at Legacy Farms and Ranches of North Carolina

For the majority of its history, winemaking has been an established industry in North Carolina. For farmers that are looking to start a grape growing operation in North Carolina, there are plenty of resources available. Here are some tips to help you get started as a grape grower in North Carolina.

Choosing Land for a Vineyard

North Carolina growing regions are subject to a variety of conditions including extreme heat, rapidly temperature changes, spring frosts, humid and hot growing seasons, all of which could have a considerable impact on crop yield. As a result, land selection must be done carefully based on your requirements for profitability. Becoming a successful winegrape grower in NC means that you must not only select the right varieties of grapes that will grow well in your area, there must also be an established commercial market that you can tap into to ensure the profitability of your operations.

What Varieties of Grapes Are Grown in North Carolina?

Chardonnay grapes are the top grape variety that is currently grown in North Carolina. Starting in the 1980s, there was a major shift towards growing vinifera, or European style bunch grapes, in North Carolina. While this type of grape is popular, several grape species are grown in North Carolina thanks to the varied climates. North Carolina features four Viticultural Zones. The best way to evaluate whether a variety of grapes will do well in a specific zone is to have a look at the maps available on the website of the North Carolina Wine and Grape Council, Inc.

Requirements for Establishing a Winery in North Carolina

If your vineyard will also include a winery, it must be registered with the North Carolina wine office. Registering can also help to boost your business by making it eligible for inclusion in all marketing materials that are distributed by the North Carolina tourism websites. Wineries are also subject to a Wine Excise tax in North Carolina which is payable to the N.C. Department of Revenue.

Resources for Grape Growers

North Carolina has several established organizations that are designed to aid farmers in learning about the winemaking business. These organizations include NC Winegrowers Association, NC Muscadine Grape Association, and Goodness Grows in NC program.

North Carolina Winegrape Grower’s Guide

This guide is published by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension and has been created in order to assist North Carolina growers with producing high quality grapes for winemaking. The North Carolina Winegrape Grower’s Guide covers all of the details of grape growing including how to select a site for a vineyard and establishing and operating a commercial vineyard in North Carolina. The guide even covers issues such as spring frost control in order to assist farmers with learning about conditions that are unique to the North Carolina growing region.


Wine & Grapes from the Piedmont? Why Not?

Legacy Farms and Land for Sale in NCWine & Grapes from the Piedmont? Why Not?

The road is two-lane all the way, winding through the gently rolling landscape of North Carolina’s Piedmont region. The view is a widely spaced mix of modern homes and old farmsteads with deep Southern porches, most surrounded with impressive acreage. The only sign you are entering wine territory are the marching rows of grape vines trellised in almost perfectly spaced intervals.

In spite of that, you would never mistake the area for California’s Napa Valley, another winemaking region at the opposite end of the country. The greens are much greener, the architecture distinctly Early American. The trees –deciduous rather than evergreen – are just beginning to flame in fantastic shades of red and orange and gold.

The Yadkin Valley

This is the Yadkin Valley, north and west of Winston-Salem. It is North Carolina’s first federally recognized American Viticultural Area (AVA), and you are just in time for a first pressing of Viognier, an intensely aromatic wine grape with the sort of bouquet many experts call “terroir” (the characteristic taste and flavor imparted to a wine by the environment in which it is produced).

In addition, the Piedmont/Yadkin Valley climate does not, according to expert agronomists and vintners, “…pose as great a risk of vine winter injury to Merlot (and other desirable but delicate vinafera species) as would be the case in Virginia.” Prime grape-wine growing territory indeed.

As a result, the Valley contains almost 40 wineries and about 400 acres devoted to vineyards. Your destination is another graceful, turn-of-the-century Victorian with deep porches on three sides and a classic wrought iron fence.

The wine? Visitors say it rivals anything from the Napa. No need to mention French wines; America has already proved itself equal in that venue. In fact, with less than 1/8 the total EU land area devoted to wine, the total value of United States’ wine sales still tops $37 billion. In North Carolina alone, the value tops $30 million.

Owning a Vineyard in the Piedmont

If you are thinking of starting your own vineyard – and why wouldn’t you? – there is no better place to start. The battle, against pests, precise soil conditions, and winter frosts, will nowhere be easier than in the Yadkin Valley of the Piedmont: the balance of sunlight and moisture nowhere more beneficial.

The first thing you will need is expertise. Subscribe to, and read, publications like the North Carolina Winegrape Grower’s Guide, which deliver practical information about site choice, soil testing, and the best varieties of wine grape in terms of ease and production. Also, make sure you understand the ins and outs of both active and passive frost protection systems, and hire or work with a professional who can advise you on the best methods of preventing or mitigating Pierce’s Disease. This latter is perhaps the single greatest threat to wine grape cultivation in the Piedmont today.

Choosing the Grapes

Don’t let fear of failure limit you to one type of wine grape, though. Choose varieties for their seasonal quality – early Chardonnay, midseason Merlot, late season Cabernet – and for their market demand.

If you plan to bottle your own wine, consider little-known, “heritage” vinafera species. Your North Carolina State University has a cooperative extension service that can help you determine current and projected wine grape prices, the buyers in this market, and current typical yields by wine grape variety.

It can also help you contact local growers and vintners who cooperate with the Extension and might be able to offer invaluable advice. It’s probably best not to go advice-hunting on your own, however. Remember, in many cases – especially where the grower is also the vintner – you will be competing with the very folks who advise you.

How Much Will It Cost?

When you finally succumb to the lure of the wine grape, your second-most important tool will be your checkbook. The average cost of starting a North Carolina vineyard is about $23,900 per acre (land, vines, trellis, chemicals, hourly wage if any, etc.). Add another $150,000 for the latest in processing and bottling facilities.

Most important, your vines will not produce for about three years, and will not reach maturity (full production) for 20. Expect to see modest profits in a decade. In the meantime, have an occupation or avocation that can tide you (and your family) over the rough financial spots.

Fortunately, the IRS recently acceded to deferring tax on combined vineyard/winery operations, but it would still be in your best interests to have them managed separately, if only because of liability concerns.

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