How to Start a Winery

by Nancy Wagner; Updated September 26, 2017
Ancient wine cellar

Producing wine is not limited by location in the U.S. as every state has at least one winery and the climate to grow some type of grape. Wherever you choose to open your winery, plan on making business decisions far in advance of the busy fall harvest and processing season, when timing and detail makes all the difference in producing a quality wine.

Consider the Source

All wineries need a source of grapes. If you want to grow some or all of your own fruit, decide what type grows best based on the acreage’s soil conditions and climate. For instance, grapes for making pinot and chardonnay grow well on the central California coast, while grapes for merlot and pinot noir do well in the Pacific Northwest. A soil test will help you address fertilizer needs so your vines get a good start the first year. If growing and harvesting your own fruit is not practical, set up lease agreements with producing vineyards. Another option is to buy a vineyard with established vines so the selection process has been done already.

Licensing List

Commercial wineries need a state license that allows them to sell alcohol. The license is issued by various agencies, depending on the state. For instance, in Michigan the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs handles those requests, while in Pennsylvania it comes from the Liquor Control Board. You must also submit an application to the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to request approval to open bonded wine premises. This approval allows you to produce, bottle, store, label and distribute wine. Check with your county zoning and ordinance board about rules pertaining to local wine production facilities.

Equipment and Space

Once the grapes ripen, you need space to crush, extract and filter the juice. About 220 gallons of fermenting capacity is required to process one ton of white grapes. The equipment you need depends on how much fruit you plan to process. Some companies cater to small wineries by selling complete packages including a hopper for sorting and feeding grapes as well as a crusher and pump system for the fermentation process. If you do not have space or equipment, look for a winery that offers custom crush services that include full fruit processing, barrel storage and bottling.

Sales and Distribution

Offer free tastings, ideal if your establishment is located near similar venues, as you can take advantage of traffic coming into the area as well as local and regional advertising. You don’t need a fancy tasting room to get started, just a comfortable environment for potential buyers to sip and appreciate your wine. Include attractive displays showing wines available for purchase and post any positive reviews, even local ones, about each vintage. To reach a larger market, find a wine distributor to help introduce your vintage to retailers on a regional or national basis. Approach local restaurants, hotels and caterers in your area to convince them to offer your products as a local choice.

About the Author

Nancy Wagner is a marketing strategist and speaker who started writing in 1998. She writes business plans for startups and established companies and teaches marketing and promotional tactics at local workshops. Wagner's business and marketing articles have appeared in "Home Business Journal," "Nation’s Business," "Emerging Business" and "The Mortgage Press," among others. She holds a B.S. from Eastern Illinois University.

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