Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jeff Cox: Wine by the Numbers

Contemplating growing some grapes and making some wine? Have I got a book for you! From Vines to Wines has become the standard work on how to do it at home. But before you start reading how to do it, you need to do some figuring.

Let’s say you have an acre you’d like to devote to grapes. If you have only half an acre, just divide these figures in half, and if you want to put in just a quarter acre, divide by four. But for the sake of convenience, let’s see what you get with an acre.

Modern vine concentrations are about a thousand vines per acre. There are a little over 40,000 square feet in an acre, so each vine gets about 4 square feet. You could set up your acre of vines so you have 25 rows 8 feet apart, with 40 vines spaced 5 feet apart in the rows.

Now, you can figure that a healthy vineyard will produce about 5 tons of grapes an acre, or 10 pounds of grapes per vine. That’s fairly heavy cropping. You could reduce the number of vines, or you could cut off grape clusters as they form if you want to curtail production, but 5 tons per acre from vigorous vines where summer rain is common is a standard figure.

To learn about growing grapes in your backyard,
the types of grapes that grow best in your region,
and how to best calculate the size vineyard for your needs,
check out
The Backyard Homestead.

Five tons of grapes is a lot of fruit. The wine will fill 13.5 sixty-gallon barrels. But again, reducing the vineyard to half an acre will make enough wine to fill just seven barrels. That’s a lot of wine. If you only plant a quarter acre, you can put your wine in three wooden barrels and a bunch of 5-gallon glass carboys. Still a lot.

One 60-gallon barrel will yield 24.6 cases of wine. That may be all you’d need or want, in which case your vineyard could be as small as 74 vines. That’s how many vines I planted in my Pennsylvania vineyard, and I was swimming in wine. Another way to figure out how many vines to plant for your needs is to note that 30 pounds of grapes — the yield from three vines — will result in one case (12 bottles) of wine. Put still another way, one bottle of wine comes from just under 2-1/2 pounds of grapes.

If you make just one barrel of wine each year, your 24.6 cases will give you 295 bottles of wine — that’s 1,180 glasses, enough for three a day. If you go the full 5-ton route, you’ll end up with 332 cases a year. Better have a temperature-controlled warehouse ready, because in a few years you’ll have over a thousand cases of wine. Just sayin’.

Jeff Cox, author of From Vines to Wines

Jeff Cox is the author of 17 books on food, wine, and gardening. He's been the host of two television series, Your Organic Garden on PBS and Grow It! on HGTV. He's a contributing editor to The Art of Eating and The Wine News magazines and is a frequent contributor to Decanter, an English wine magazine. Jeff is a member of the James Beard Foundation and a regional judge for the organization's culinary awards and in the past has been the managing editor of Organic Gardening magazine, a weekly columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, and director of electronic publishing for Rodale Press. He lives in Kenwood, California.

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