What does it take to live on a vineyard?
So your house comes with a few acres of grapevines. Here's how owning a vineyard home differs from maintaining your average bungalow.
© Stacy Dezelsky
You love wine, and you want to take your passion to the next level by buying a home with a vineyard — or even a vineyard and a winery. Take notice: Tending a vineyard property requires more cash and a lot more work than mowing the lawn and pulling weeds at a typical suburban home.
You'll become a farmer and must contend with the whims of Mother Nature. And if you also own a winery, get set for government red tape. Plus, there's pest management, watering, insurance, labor costs and more.
"There's something to do all the time," says Kathryn Stubler, who says the vineyard outside her Palisade, Colo., home occupies 10% to 35% of her time, depending on the season.
Despite the hours and costs, the number of wineries in the United States has jumped more than 160% in the past decade, to 7,626. More than half are outside of California.
"It's fun to sell the grapes to people I know, because some of them one day may become among the state's best commercial winemakers," says Stubler, a hobby grape-grower with her husband, Ken. They have a home on Red Fox Vineyards' 7.8-acre property, of which wine grapes occupy 6.5 acres. (Bing: Which grapes are the easiest to grow?)
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The Stublers are active in their vineyard. They weed, prune, water, check for pests, cut dead or diseased wood, and spray limited amounts of herbicides and pesticides. They also host wine events.
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Their biggest cost, however, is labor. Although the Stublers pick grapes, they also pay teams of four to six workers. Pay accounts for 65% of the vineyard's total costs, Stubler says, and totals roughly $2,250 to $2,500 per acre annually.
Other approximate annual costs:
- $200: Crop insurance, to protect against things such as a vine-damaging freeze.
- $200: Liability insurance, in case a worker is injured.
- $500 to $1,000: Herbicides and pesticides.
- $1,000: Repairs, maintenance and supplies such as wrapping tape, pruners and bamboo poles.
The upside: "I can live in this beautiful area and deduct everything I spend on it," Stubler says.
Grapes require pampering — lots of it. Donniella Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association, says a grower must tend a single grape vine 35 to 40 times a year.
There's also the matter of water, particularly if you live in the arid West, where demand exceeds supply. Grapes can require irrigation, which means holding the legal right to draw from an irrigation canal or other water source. That's not something typical homeowners must worry about.
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Charlie Talbott, who operates Colorado's Talbott Farms and its 425 acres with two of his brothers, accesses water from an irrigation-canal system that carries "senior" water rights. This gives Talbott priority during shortages. "The challenge is being vigilant about not having that right diminished," he says.
Which raises the next point: Owning a winery, a vineyard or both means a legion of government regulators will be looking over your shoulder.
Daniel Mastropiétro, owner of Mastropiétro Winery in northeastern Ohio's Mahoning Valley, contends with several layers of regulators:
- County health commissioners.
- State alcohol regulators.
- The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
- The Environmental Protection Agency, because of the winery's well and septic system.
- The Food and Drug Administration, because of the wine itself.
But Mastropiétro's property taxes are about $1,100 lower than a typical homeowner's because the vineyard and winery, which occupy 50 acres, are zoned as agricultural properties. This zoning is typical of most vineyards.
Mastropiétro says labor accounts for roughly 25% of his costs. He has about 14 part-time employees, including people who serve food and wine to workers tending the grounds and vineyard. Dealing with Mother Nature can be a chore, with vines competing with frost, excessive heat, too much rain, not enough rain, pests — you name it.
What's the most rewarding part? "When everyone comes and sits and enjoys themselves while enjoying a glass of wine," Mastropiétro says. But, he adds, "It's a lot of work."
It's partially why Mastropiétro and Stubler are selling their properties. "It's not because we're unhappy," Stubler says. "We just have another adventure left in us."
The cost balance can change dramatically with a new approach to vineyard operations. Wow, look at how labor costs can be greatly reduced.
And beyond that, especially useful for small vineyards would be the immediate action of simply planting an additional row of new vines in each existing row-space center.
Look at 'Miastrada Dragon At Work' on youtube.com to see how.
Using studies by UCDavis, it looks like the price for this property is high relative to income.
A new way of thinking is to stop letting the standard tractor widths drive vineyard layouts.