Vineyard Site Assessment Checklist

New-Jersey-WineriesWhat factors affect site selection for successful wine grape growing in New Jersey? When considering a land parcel, gather the information listed here to begin to make an informed decision.

Increase site selection success by investing your time before your money.

Weather, Climate, & Microclimate

What is the:
▢  Absolute minimum coldest winter temperatures recorded, and the frequency that those temperatures occur, for proposed site or nearby verified weather station location. Note the average minimum recorded for the area. You need to know this, as it will dictate marginal climate survival of vinifera, variety choices, and graft zone winter management.
▢  Growing season length in days, along with Base 50 degree F Growing degree-day accumulations for the site.
▢  Recorded or verified average last Spring frost and 1st Fall frost dates recorded for proposed site or nearby verified weather station location.
▢  Data on unusual local variance from typical August and September precipitation and hail events. Obtain records of Aug-Sept precipitation for proposed site or nearby verified weather station location.

Soil and Physical Site

What is the:
▢  Current or potential access to irrigation; current well or pond or known location where a well permit to drill and permit to divert can be obtained.
▢  Site elevation in feet above sea level and micro-climate air drainage. Learn what air drainage means. Look at the site on foggy mornings and evenings. Obtain from USGS or from USDA-NRCS Web Soil Survey and digital elevation model.
▢  Slope and aspect (direction of slope), as these impact grape performance.
▢  Soil/subsoil/hydrogeology profile and drainage. Print out of USDA NRCS Web Soil Survey for the proposed site.

Problem Wildlife

▢  Wildlife damage experience of farmers and residents in the area.
Known fly way for starlings and bird species (which will destroy a vineyard near harvest).
White-tailed deer population density and presence of un-hunted refuge wooded areas within one mile.
Groundhogs. Rodents. Turkeys.
▢  Need to know about integrated bird deterrence, netting, fencing, municipal codes.

Farming History

Find out about:
▢  Previous farming and cropping history of proposed site. Prior vegetable farming on a site (typically hints at soils with excellent fertility and high soil potassium) can result in grapes with lower than desirable titratable acidity.
▢  How to get a complete soil analysis. Soil test results should include organic matter, pH, nutrient levels and ratios. Learn what levels & ratios are required for optimal wine grape growing.
▢  Nearby grain/forage crops which might be treated with 2.4-D.
▢  Weed survey of the proposed site with problem weeds identified.

Is Your Town Farm Friendly?

Find out about:
▢  Has the town passed any Right to Farm resolutions?
▢  Friendliness of municipal code officials toward agritourism and site potential for winery. History of municipal and neighbor conflicts with landowners and commercial activity on suburban residential roads and neighborhoods.
▢  Direct market traveller suitability for winery development.
▢  Proximity to neighbors, especially downwind (objection to field and spray operations).

How Many Acres are Available?

In other words, how much land will you need (at 3 to 4 ton per acre realistic average yields) for a commercially viable vineyard?
Expect about 155 gallons of must (juice) per ton of grapes. Maybe a little more from red grapes and a little less must from white grapes, pressed off the skins before fermentation. At 2.4 gallons per case (12) 750ml bottles of wine, the “case yield” per ton of grape is about 64, or about 760 bottles.

Rutgers University NJ Wine Grape Resource Center

NJ Climate & Weather Network

USDA NRCS Web Soil Survey

Outer Coastal Plain Vineyard Association

Companion worksheet to Snyder Farm workshop “Vineyard Site Selection” (2012) by Jack Rabin.
Thanks to NJ growers Larry Coia & Jim Quarella for their contributions.