By Michele F. Mihaljevich
REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio – The Ohio Grape Industries Committee (OGIC) is giving Ohioans the opportunity to start – or add to – a vineyard to help spur grape production in the state.
The Vineyard Expansion Assistance Program (VEAP) will award up to $3,000 per acre, with a maximum of three acres, to establish grape vines beginning in 2021. Vines for wine or table grapes are eligible. The funding will only cover the cost of the grape vines planted.
Grape production has fallen steadily in the state since 2008, said Christy Eckstein, executive director of the OGIC. “The main driver is to put more vineyards in the ground in Ohio,” she explained. “We have more wineries but a decrease in grape acreage. We’re trying to help our wineries have a local source for their fruit.”
The Buckeye state has 341 licensed wine manufacturers, or wineries, and about 100-110 vineyards. Some of those vineyards belong to the wineries.
Ohio has about 1,500 acres of grapes, down from about 2,000 in 2008. The polar vortex weather events in 2014 and 2015 resulted in many producers pulling out their vineyards, Eckstein said, adding quite a few of those acres weren’t replaced.
“The weather is one factor (in the decline in acreage),” she noted. “Labor and expenses associated with growing grapes are also a factor. Growers are putting vines in, in the hope of getting a harvest in 3-5 years.”
The cost to start a vineyard – not including the land – could be $10,000-$20,000, Eckstein said. Included in the cost are the vines, equipment to maintain them, trellises for them to grow on, pest and disease management products and labor.
OGIC offered a similar program in 2010 and 2011, with funding from a USDA specialty crop block grant. The $75,000 available this year comes from OGIC.
Applicants in 2010-2011 were a pretty even mix of new growers and those looking to expand existing vineyards, Eckstein said. “All applicants will undergo pre-planting site evaluations and post-planting site evaluations. In 5, 10, 15 years down the road, we want to see all these vineyards fruitful and maybe open their own wineries.”
All grapes grown in the state tend to be cool climate varieties, she pointed out. In the northeastern part of the state near Lake Erie, pinot grigio (a white wine grape variety), grows well, while red grapes do well in southern Ohio. OGIC will work with Ohio State University extension specialists to help determine if applicants have chosen the best grapes for their part of the state.
To be approved, applicants must meet several criteria, including having a business plan with a clear plan for the grapes to be put into the production chain, Eckstein said. The planting must occur in spring 2021 and at least one acre of vines (minimum of 200 vines per variety) must be planted. Applicants may request reimbursement through VEAP once a vineyard assessment by OSU viticulture staff is completed during the first growing season.
Before opting to launch the return of the program, Eckstein said OGIC checked with wineries to be sure there would be a market for the additional grapes. “We found there is a market and demand for Ohio-grown fruit. We didn’t want to set up growers to invest time and money and not make a profit.”
At $3,000 an acre, the program’s funding could help pay for 25 acres of grapes, she said. Some growers may opt to plant more acreage that wouldn’t be covered by the program. OGIC is funded through a portion of an excise tax paid by manufacturers and distributors on all wine sold in the state.
“This is an opportunity to become a part of a small but diverse industry,” Eckstein stated. “Everyone is very collaborative and collegial. The people are very willing to help and teach. They view themselves as colleagues.”
The application deadline is Sept. 23. For more information and to request an application, contact Eckstein at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information is also available at www.findohiowines.com. Click on the ‘news’ tab at the top of the page and then click on the story about VEAP.