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Friday, February 21, 2014

How to start your own winery

  You've been wine tasting, maybe even in Napa. Perhaps you have made five gallons of your own wine. More importantly, you have a few extra bucks and want to be part of The Romance of the Wine Country. You are, of course, naive.

  So how do you get started?

  First, you'll need grapes. Good California vineyards go for $100,000 an acre plus-or-minus. In Napa Valley where everyone wants to be it's well up on the plus side--way up. Even if you could afford that you'd then have to maintain it. Do you really want to be outside in the cold, rain, the heat, doing manual labor? Just buy grapes from a grower who actually likes being a farmer. To purchase grapes all you need is someone that knows vineyards, the local micro-climates and soil types, and knows contract law. The days of the handshake agreement between neighbors ended when all the, um, outsiders came in.

  Next you'll need equipment: Stainless steel, French oak, hoses, clamps, little pole thingies to stir with, etc. And a temperature-controlled building to house all this stuff. Expensive? Yee haw.  Bank of America loves start-up wineries! Maybe just rent a stall from one of those storage places next to the guy who stores his boat and shelves full of old comic books.

  This is getting more romantic by the minute.

Yup, this is what you call a good time!
Image from

  You're going to have to sell your wine, too. You want shelf space next to Gallo, Kendall-Jackson, and Beringer? Yeah, just like the other 2,000 wineries. Direct-to-consumer is the way to go--no middleman. So how do you get these consumers? Well, you can get 96 points in Wine Spectator or you can throw lavish (free) drunken parties and invite everyone, hoping somebody will buy futures. FYI, getting people drunk is a lot easier than getting 96 points.

  Do you live for paperwork? If so, get into the alcohol making and distribution business!

  And the worst part is you'll need people to do all this stuff. Can you trust a bunch of underpaid hourly workers to care as much about your livelihood as you? I mean, they just want to go home at the end of the day, not live there day and night like you. You'll have to micromanage everything! Oh yeah, you'll want to speak Spanish.

  Currently Napa and Sonoma each have 450 wineries, there are 180 in Paso Robles, etc. All you have to do is go into debt up to your eyeballs and work 18 hours every day and you could be number 451 in Napa Valley!

  You'll need a white pickup truck, too. The good news? You can show up to dinner at any swanky wine country restaurant in dirty shorts and rubber boots and no one cares.

  When do you make a profit? Yeah, right. This had better be a tax write-off.

  If this all sounds unappealing maybe you just want to open a craft brewery.

This could all be yours someday!