Saturday, September 01, 2007

Winery Owner Exercise: Grow Some Tomatoes

The public asks a lot of questions about the vineyards. Some of the simplest queries have answers that are potentially the most profound.

"Why do you grow the vines like that?"

One of the answers is : "Because the last guy did it like that".

Truth is that a number of cultural practices are in play to achieve a common goal: control. This precept is applicable to the greater farming community and the wine business as well.

Left to their own devices, the average grape vine would simply sprawl across the ground in a haphazard way. Occasionally it would train up a tree trunk or other fixed vertical support but for the most part the vine is content to simply spread to the area of least resistance.

For somebody who needs to harvest high quality grapes this kind of vine behaviour would be a chaotic disaster. Planting a lot of vines and then being unable to tend them would result in wildly varied bunch quality and an almost impossible harvest routine.

Good vineyard management is an analogy for a good winery business. It's about good planning, research, decision making and follow through. There's no point in creating a mountain of grapes if the processing or sales contracts haven't been planned. At some point there's going to be trouble if the planning is not in place.

Let's digress and talk about tomatoes. My family and I love vine-ripened tomatoes. We also love the unusual varieties. So my son and I planned to grow a plot of tomatoes this year. We decided to begin with greenhouse starters. On our trip to the nursery I had 20 separate plants before I started to ponder the number of tomatoes that would potentially yield.

Who was going to look after these tomatoes (farmer)? Who is going to eat these tomatoes (market)? Which tomatoes will be more popular (PR)?

After some sober thought, I planted only eight different plants and we're getting just about what we want. We can manage the tomatoes we have without running around and giving them away (developing new markets) or processing them into sauce (new products) at the spur of the moment. Frankly, my time is worth more than either of those activities so the end result would be $$ out and a questionable return. Best of all, a high percentage of our tomatoes are going to be consumed fresh and not left to rot (productivity?).

Currently, there are a number of winery operations in BC experiencing growth difficulties that could probably been overcome with good planning. There is a market for quality BC-made wine but it doesn't sell itself. Failure to perform at every key stage will result in downstream problems that will either require substantial effort ($$) to correct or ultimately decide the fate of the operation.

So when you plant that vine, know what you expect, understand the steps to get there, control the growth. Try it with tomatoes in your backyard if you'd like.

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