Owning a vineyard is a bucket list item for many people—myself included. And in 2016, my wife and I purchased a house where we could make that dream a reality.
Located in Davenport, IA, on a bluff looking down on the Mississippi River, the property even had a rainbow stretching over it when we saw it for the first time. It was clearly a sign.
I had made wine at home for years, and had long wanted to look out my window and see grapes growing in the summer sun. With my own vineyard, I could pick the grapes, stomp them with friends and family, and make a wine everyone would love!
While certain areas like Napa Valley are known for their wine and vineyards, grapes are grown in all 50 states. Friends were at first shocked that grapes could grow in the Midwest, but there are varietals that have been hybridized for cold climates.
You don’t need a huge plot of land; our lot was just over a third of an acre, and we made the most of it. After clearing the property, we planted 12 rows of 140 vines (of four different varieties).
Aside from having (nearly) unlimited amounts of delicious wine on hand for all occasions, there are some distinct advantages in having a vineyard:
- It adds beauty to your property. Consider some unused corner of your backyard. If you’re not into growing flowers or vegetables, imagine beautiful trellises with grape clusters hanging from them. You can eat the grapes, sell the grapes, turn the grapes into wine at home, or take them to a local winery and have it process the grapes for you. You can invite friends and neighbors to pick the grapes and have an old-fashioned grape stomp in your backyard.
- Grapevines are hardy and grow almost anywhere. Grapes are for the most part drought-resistant, as they develop tap roots that burrow many feet below ground in search of water. Vines grow where many other types of plants cannot. Grapevines are very versatile plants and can grow in many different environments—even in the desert.
- A vineyard adds value to your property. When it comes time to sell your house, buyers will be impressed—homes with vineyards stand out as being more refined and classy. That is not to say all buyers would want a vineyard, but attracting those who do can increase the market value of your home.
- Vineyards can come with tax breaks. Both the federal government and certain state governments offer tax breaks for vineyards. This depends on the size of the vineyard, whether you intend to turn the grapes into wine, and your individual tax situation. You should consult your accountant before planting to discuss the advantages.
So what’s not to love?
It seemed simple, but the reality was a little more complicated. Here are some things to consider before you begin digging postholes in your backyard.
Can you grow grapes on your property?
While grapes will grow almost anywhere, you may want your water and soil tested. A vineyard expert can help determine if the soil is good for grapes. The pro can also determine the best grapes to grow, help you build trellises that are situated for maximum sun exposure, and determine the correct size and spacing for your vines.
We had our vineyard installed by Clayton and George Walker, a father-and-son team from My Home Vineyard. They say that backyard vineyards are becoming more common; their company currently installs one to two new vineyards per week.
It took eight days to install, but since they were experts, they knew the materials that they would need, the right vines to plant, and the best way to lay out the vineyard for the maximum yields.
Do you need permits to build a vineyard?
You will want to check local ordinances to see whether you need special permits to build a vineyard—we didn’t have to do this, but you may, depending on where you live. If your property is under the jurisdiction of a homeowners association, you will also want to get approval to build and make sure it conforms to the HOA rules.
How much does growing a vineyard cost?
One of the questions I often get is how much a backyard vineyard would cost to install. According to My Home Vineyard, it really depends on the land: Is there a slope? Does it need to be cleared? The rule of thumb is about $40 per vine. On the average acre, you can plant up to 1,000 vines at a cost of about $40,000. The enterprise is definitely an investment, which is why we planted only 140 vines.
What herbicides and insecticides does a vineyard need?
It is really hard to grow vines organically. We fought Japanese beetles and finally had to resort to using insecticides and herbicides to keep the vineyard healthy. Buy you need to be aware that this can have a serious impact on the land and water around you.
Check with environmental experts in the area to determine the safety and impact of spraying. Spray on days that are not windy, to avoid “drift,” which is when the herbicides and insecticides are carried to other people’s property.
We also had a groundhog that loved tunneling under the vines. We named him Papa Hog, because he was huge. We live-trapped him and moved him out of the area.
How much wine can a vineyard produce?
The next logical question concerns making wine from the grapes. We are in our third year, which is how long it takes to have an actual yield. Considering that one vine can produce about seven pounds of grapes when fully mature, that translates to about three bottles of wine per vine. So with our vineyard, we should be producing about 420 bottles in a good year.
As a hobby, that is a lot of wine. But I trust we will manage just fine—and you may find yourself with plenty of new friends in the neighborhood.