For this Q and A, Pacifica Wine Division interviews vineyard owner Chris Williams. Chris and his wife purchased a small 8-acre vineyard in Templeton, California in October of 2014. With limited knowledge of vineyard operations, the two set out to find a calm and picturesque setting to relocate to for retirement. Recently celebrating his first grape harvest, Chris provides great insight to aid fellow vineyard novices who may be considering purchasing and running a vineyard for the first time.
Q: What should potential vineyard owners consider before settling on a vineyard?
Location plays an important role in the types of grapes that can be grown. When my wife and I set out we considered buying a vineyard in Virginia but preferred the beautiful landscapes and the amenable weather that the Southern California area could provide. Potential owners must also be realistic about their goals. I knew I wanted to be hands-on with the process and I was not looking to strike it right. For us, a smaller vineyard was best. Determining the size of the vineyard you can afford and are comfortable overseeing as well as what role, if any, you want a vineyard manager to play are also critical factors to consider during the vineyard selection process.
Q: Is a vineyard manager necessary in the success of a first-time vineyard buyer?
Vineyard managers can be a great resource for newbie vineyard owners because they possess a wealth of knowledge about how to operate a vineyard. In some cases, a new vineyard owner may consider not to hire a vineyard manager and may instead find alternative ways to manage the property. When we bought Kula Vineyards, I knew I wanted to play an active role but I also knew I didn’t know much about growing grapes and how to maintain the vineyard. But, I was willing to learn. We hired a vineyard manager for a short period, from October to March, but early on we decided that we would go at it alone. This has worked for us, but it is another area to consider when determining which vineyard to purchase and if the property can cover the cost of a vineyard manager.
Q: Is it important to consider the surrounding area when purchasing a vineyard?
Absolutely! Access to nearby resources can be a much-needed benefit for a new vineyard owner. Our neighbors have been wonderful and are always ready and willing to share equipment, advice, and lend support. The vineyard lifestyle is non-competitive. We take a collective approach and understand that if we work together we can make the Paso Robles area well known for our quality grapes and wines. A new vineyard owner should consider what resources are around the vineyard and do some intel to learn more about the neighboring residents and vineyard owners.
Q: What can a prospective vineyard owner do to make sure they are purchasing a quality vineyard?
I would highly recommend hiring a vineyard manager even as a consultant to come and inspect any potential vineyard you are considering to buy. They have the expertise of how much work and money may be needed to operate the vineyard or get it back into working order, if it has been neglected. This can help to prevent a prospective vineyard owner from walking into a cost trap. Using a realtor that specializes in vineyard properties is essential too, so they can vet properties for you – eliminating those that may have high maintenance costs or other hidden issues.