By Dawn Dolan
In the weeks leading up to the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, friends asked me if I were going. For my business, I wanted to go for up-to-date industry information. As a newly minted wine grape grower, having just sold my first commercial harvest in the fall of 2015, and as a seasoned home winemaker, I also wanted to go as a learning expedition, but I was concerned about what Unified could offer me personally. I decided that I would go to acquire knowledge for my main business, and hope that for my own grower interests, some vendors would speak with me if I said I only had 1000 vines.
As a micro-grower, I have different challenges than the big guys. I have no big orders to place (and no economies of scale, I fear!), so I don’t constitute a goodly chunk of revenue for whomever will do business with me. Sometimes I take leftovers if a large vineyard has ordered too much of something. Sometimes I split the expense of a pricey item with another small grower neighbor. Often I need to borrow something from grower-friends with bigger operations. Who knew a 5-foot weed-shearing implement (curtesy of Pourroy Vineyards) that cuts off weeds an inch below the surface, pulled by my 32-hp John Deere, could make such a difference in weed mitigation? Wow!
Setting out I felt uncertain of what I might find in the vendor section. My self-imposed task was simple; find out who was there of interest to a small grower, and if those vendors would give me the time of day.
Near the door I entered was the Gripple vendor, who seemed very friendly. He took the time to explain his product to me with a product demonstration (I like that you can back off the gripple down the wire with the little tool…handy if you mess up a bit on placement!), and told me where I could get them. Gripples are indispensable little devices which link one trellising wire around the other side of the post and to the other trellis wire. They can be tightened yearly if wires sag. Developed in the 80’s, this little beauty replaced the tedious, oft-poor job of binding to ends of a wire together tightly enough that the tension of a whole row of grapes wouldn’t pull it out.
After gripples I had to hunt a bit, but then I found a French product company who makes decomposing ties for the vineyard. They are a pleasant, unobtrusive tan color (also in green). How awesome. The company is called Exbanor from Lisieux, France, with a sales rep out of Pennsylvania. Since I hate looking at green plastic tape in the winter when all the leaves are gone, and then there is the cutting it off and picking it up at various stages of the vine’s growth and stability, I jumped on this stuff. Their representative, Michael Schmidt, was pleasant, demonstrating the plier tool for me with the tape. I don’t need the tool for my little plot, but fortunately they were selling the tape right there, so I bought a roll for $17.
Then I talked to the people at Irrometer, who make soil moisture indicators. They explained how to set the stand-alone indicators at the correct depth for either vines, or my fruit trees, which was useful information. Even my small vineyard has a few soil differences between the low and high areas and clay patch, so that could be very useful.
Also in that same arena were Spectrum Technologies, Inc, who make complete sensor station systems measuring moisture, temperature, solar light, wind speed, pressure, etc. that hook into the web via satellite. They are geared towards mildew & pest reduction, and seemed mostly for larger vineyards. However, they did show me a stand-alone unit for small vineyards, which was intriguing, and Bridget, whom I spoke with, even followed up with me by email, which I considered highly professional.
Probably other small vineyard owners are also home winemakers, and my winemaker and consultant side interest was piqued by the friendly ReCoop Barrels people, out of Sebastopol, CA. Not only do they re-coop (shaved and re-toasted as well, of course) used barrels for large wineries, they sell re-cooped barrels at a reasonable price. With the price of a new (full-sized) French oak barrel approaching $1000, many large wineries essentially “rent” barrels from the cooperages. Small family wineries (or home winemakers!) that can’t afford new French oak may find this a reasonable alternative.
Nearby was Oak Infusion Spiral, offering oak spirals in a great size for the five-gallon glass carboys that we homebrew folks (and professionals alike) often need but seem hard to find. Out of Minnesota, they had great choices and gave tips on length of use, which Len Napolitano, sales manager, discussed with me. One of the only vendors giving away something useful (no more candy bars, please!), I appreciated their willingness to chat with me, offering up a sample and catalogue.
I skipped any financial services booths, and probably missed some vendors even though I felt I was being methodical. But all in all, I was pleased to find that after all, there was something for the small farmer at Unified.