The question of profitability in grapes is answered by two factors:  yield from harvest and the price obtained per ton for that yield.  Below is a link to a table I took from a fact sheet from the University of Kentucky:

Notice on table 2 that for vinifera grapes one must make at least 3 tons per acre and receive at least $1200/ton to make any money at all (and that is pretty minimal).  Realistically, one would like to be in the 4 to 6 ton range — that is a lot of grapes and if they vines are own-rooted the chances of making that goal is not good.   My recommendation is to use a rootstock to boost production — which one to use depends each individual cultivar and vineyard site.

How many of you out there are receiving at least $1200/ton and consistently cropping 4 to 6 tons per acre?  Just curious.  In testing the cultivars at Perkins over a 5 year period, only one own-rooted vinifera made the yield cut — Merlot.  For those on a rootstock nearly all vinifera average at least 4 tons per acre with the exception of Cabernet Sauvignon (3.9) and Malbec (2.4).   I think we get about $1000/ton on average for the vinifera grapes grown on the station.  So, according to the assumptions presented in the Kentucky paper, not much money is being made, probably enough to break even or a small profit to be used toward next year.

Now, the yield totals say nothing about fruit quality, of which some is poor.  Cultivars like Cabernet Franc and Pinot Gris met or exceeded the yield goal of 4 tons per acre, but the quality of the fruit was not good.  Cabernet Franc overcrops and does not ripen evenly and Pinot Gris has disease issues.  The out and out vinifera winner was Ruby Cabernet in terms of yield per acre on rootstock 1103P.

Chambourcin, a FrenchxAmerican hybrid, is the real winner.  On its own roots it averaged 6 tons per acre.  We don’t have any on a rootstock, so we don’t have that data, but it would likely be around 8 tons.  If a grower could get $800-$900 per ton then we are talking real profit and real sustainability.

Tomorrow I will talk about grape quality and how to measure it.