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Vineyards are not farms!


Rebel Rose
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NOTE: I can imagine that someone might take exception to me saying that wineyards are not farms, but they aren't. I love wine as much as anyone (and more than teetotalers), but vineyards are not farms.
I would be willing to bet that there is a huge chasm between the average winemaker and the average farmer, in terms of income*. With the exception of "Green Acres" (a Sixties sit-com that was a bunch of poppycock: a rich lawyer decides to leave his cushy job in New York City, dragging his reluctant city-girl wife to the countryside with him), there aren't too many stories of people who got so wealthy that they decided to buy a working farm and "go back to the earth." However, sitting here in Napa, the little microvineyards owned by yuppies are a cliche (sorry, I can't make diacriticals on this borrowed PC). In fact, there is one such vineyard visible out the back window of the house where I'm staying. It's probably illegal, too, as they bulldozed an entire hillside to plant vines, encouraging total erosion of the soil.

There are challenges unique to vineyards, but mostly their problems are an entirely different set than those which befall the farmer with CSAs, farmers markets, the demands of chefs in restaurants, and so on.

So I don't think vineyards are farms. This is not to say that they aren't practicing agriculture, just that the end result is not food. And while winemakers are doing good things, I reserve my ultimate respect for farmers who are feeding the world, and not really making a buck doing it. I don't think it would be any kind of an exaggeration to say that rich people have wineries, and poor people farm. I think that's how those cards lay.

Does anyone here agree? Disagree? Original discussion here.

This is a myth--or misconception--that I encounter frequently, so I can understand these comments, if not embrace them as a definition of who we are. Should I allow my customers to visualize Dover Canyon as a spreading land grant with untended vines gracefully waving in gentle breezes? It would probably be a smarter marketing move. Actually, I think I will.

But I am passionate about the challenges and drama inherent in farming. And I love our farm. I am proud to call our vineyard a "farm." Somehow I don't think we'd ever convince Andrea Sottimano that he's not farming . . .

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Mary Baker

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NOTE: I can imagine that someone might take exception to me saying that wineyards are not farms, but they aren't. I love wine as much as anyone (and more than teetotalers), but vineyards are not farms.

I think I'm in your camp, Mary -- I know too many growers who are NOT the uber-rich Yuppies that is being invoked.

sitting here in Napa, the little microvineyards owned by yuppies are a cliche (sorry, I can't make diacriticals on this borrowed PC). In fact, there is one such vineyard visible out the back window of the house where I'm staying. It's probably illegal, too, as they bulldozed an entire hillside to plant vines, encouraging total erosion of the soil.

The local laws regarding planting and what can be cleared for vineyards is so strict, that I seriously doubt anyone is doing anything illegal. I can't put my finger on the exact article in the Napa Register, but a well-known vineyard manager was fined and jailed last year for clearcutting part of a mountain forest to plant vineyards. It quite simply isn't tolerated. Besides, what good would it do vineyard farmers to "encourage total erosion of the soil?" None -- they want the land to be as fruitful and multiply as long as possible. That logic simply does not work.

I believe the major disconnect in the argument is between WINERY OWNERS and GRAPE GROWERS. Maybe a lot of people who consume wine don't realize that it is two separate business and the buying and selling of grapes to winemakers and winery owners is a huge business. There has been a generalization that because Winery Owners are rich and yuppies, that they can't care about the land from which their product comes -- again, another disconnect.

For me the bottom line is that while the ultimate product may not FEED people in a classic sense, it does feed the soul and is far more than simple agriculture.

Edited by Carolyn Tillie (log)
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Boy, as a city kid I find it hard to imagine why, with all the challenges people who grow things for a living face, that you'd have the time to start drawing lines between yourselves.

And I wonder about a classification system that excludes a small vineyard owner who works full time to make ends meet, and embraces an millionaire agribusiness owner with six-figure federal subsidies and a business plan that relies on "Frankenfoods."

No good can come of this.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Sorry, Vineyards are farms. They grow grapes in dirt. The way they are grown can be amazingly complex (trellising systems, leaf thinning, canopy management, greet harvest etc. etc. etc. )

but they are farms. they grow things in dirt.

Wine is a food. You drink it, but it contains vitamins, minerals, calories.

The end.

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I used to work for Farm Credit, and for the purposes of loaning money, grape growers are farmers (Farm Credit also loans to ranchers -- or "farmers" of livestock). And also for the pursposes of loaning money, wineries are agribusinesses.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to say, Rebel Rose, that to me, vineyards are not farms.

But, neither are orchards. Neither are ranches, or dairies.

The thing that sets a farm apart in my mind is the growth of annual plants, not perennials.

Those technicalities aside, I think that while growing grapes for wine production may have its own unique proclivities and challenges, but there are many analogous challenges that most small farmers, small ranchers, small dairies, and small orchards also have to overcome.

But, the question of do I consider you a kindred spirit for eking your life out of cantankerous soil by confounding weeds, insects, animals, weather, and illness of both you and your crops? Of course I do.

Rave on

edit: speeling erorrs

Edited by jsolomon (log)

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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You're thinking of Boone's Farm and Mad Dog 20/20

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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Rave on

Thank you!

The thing that sets a farm apart in my mind is the growth of annual plants, not perennials.

However, that's kind of a tight definition. It excludes berries, oysters, small-scale livestock production, asparagus beds, artichokes, olives, etc. And what about the multitude of small farms that wisely diversify among animals, orchards, perennials, vines, and annuals?

By the way, a grape is technically, a berry. Wine grapes are also used in production of jellies and grapeseed oil. By far their most glamourous incarnation is in wine, but as Craig has pointed out . . . wine is food! :cool:

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Mary Baker

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Historically, lots of European small farmers grew grapes as well as grain, vegetables and fruit. They'd also raise animals for milk and meat. So does that mean such a peasant wasn't a farmer? Or that the grape (and fruit and livestock) aspects of his land were somehow "non-farm"? I think not; to make an arbitrary distinction is ahistorical and silly.

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Farms grow food. Food feeds people. Agriculture is responsible for many things, including wine grapes, cacao beans, coffee beans, tea, and so on. But I don't consider a vineyard a farm, at least not for the definition I have been using when I tell people that I photograph and write about small farms. I don't consider winemakers farmers, even if they're farming morning, noon, and night. The issues that winemakers face are not related to the issues that farmers with CSAs, farmers markets, and so on, have to face. That is undeniable.

Farmers, to me (and probably to most people), are people who are feeding the world. And while I love wine, it is a luxury item...does a $90 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon have the same meaning or identity or purpose that a CSA box, filled with fruits, vegetables does? Nope. But anyone can believe anything they want to. Suit yourselves! Just don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining. :laugh:

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I don't consider winemakers farmers, even if they're farming morning, noon, and night.

:blink:

The issues that winemakers face are not related to the issues that farmers with CSAs, farmers markets, and so on, have to face. That is undeniable.

What are those issues, Tana?

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Mary Baker

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I tend to believe that a vinyard is a type of farm. The land is set aside for agricultural purposes. I really don't think it should matter who owns it or how much money they make. What the person/company does after the harvest with the product should be irrelevant. Would you say a tract of land growing hops, for the sole purpose of using it in beer, is not a farm (and if not than what is it)?

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For me the bottom line is that while the ultimate product may not FEED people in a classic sense, it does feed the soul and is far more than simple agriculture.

While not placing one above the other, this is closeest to what, for me, separates the grower of grapes for wine from the grower of, say, grapes bound for the supermarket.

If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

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However, that's kind of a tight definition.  It excludes berries, oysters, small-scale livestock production, asparagus beds, artichokes, olives, etc.  And what about the multitude of small farms that wisely diversify among animals, orchards, perennials, vines, and annuals? 

By the way, a grape is technically, a berry.  Wine grapes are also used in production of jellies and grapeseed oil.  By far their most glamourous incarnation is in wine, but as Craig has pointed out . . . wine is food!  :cool:

Well, it's meant to be a tight definition. In Nebraska, these slight differences are important to the producers. Also, when you look at it that way, I am actually giving more respect to the individual challenges, needs, and benefits of each particular producer than simply lumping them all together as "farmers".

There certainly is a grand set of agriculture in my mind, I just don't label the people in that endeavor as "farmers". Farmers are under a much stricter definition due to the nature of where I was raised where there is such a matter of pride as to which things you grow, how, and where. Lord help the person that calls a Sandhills rancher a farmer.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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So just to be clear, if you grow table grapes and sell them to people at the farmers market you are a farmer. If you grow grapes and sell them to someone who makes them into wine, you might be a farmer. If you grow grapes and make them into wine yourself you are catigorically not a farmer.

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. . . due to the nature of where I was raised where there is such a matter of pride as to which things you grow, how, and where.

You know, I was thinking of that when I responded to your post. In wide open farming lands, there is more direction toward specialization, as on the dry eastern side of Washington State, which I believe is more similar to the mid-West. On the rainy, mountainous side that I grew up in, diversity is key, because of the short and perilous growing season. So the 'definition' of farming might vary from place to place.

If you grow grapes and make them into wine yourself you are catigorically not a farmer.

Tell that to the tractor. :hmmm:

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Mary Baker

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So just to be clear, if you grow table grapes and sell them to people at the farmers market you are a farmer.  If you grow grapes and sell them to someone who makes them into wine, you might be a farmer.  If you grow grapes and make them into wine yourself you are catigorically not a farmer.

No I'm splitting it into the difference between end purpose.

Grapes to eat = same category as salad growers.

Grapes for wine = different category.

You'll note that I'm purposely omitting the term "farmer". By defining from the left (having a term and slapping a definition on it) you automatically will run into the types of unresolveable arguments that we have here. A much more solid epistomological process is to define from the right and then worry about labels.

Let me try this analogy -- the difference as the same as the difference between a potter that makes bowls for daily use and one that makes bowls for decoration. Winemaking/growing grapes defined as art rather than necessity.

If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

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Not pointing this at any particular person(s) in either thread, but why set up a false strawman and argument regarding this topic?

Growing grapes is obviously farming and as Carolyn mentioned is a distinct part of the process of making wine. Also growing grapes/making wine encompasses issues that are similar and different than growing other fruits or vegetables. I don't think we need a politically driven definition of what is or is not a farm or farming. There are different types of farms and as several people have pointed out there are many differences even within growing wine grapes w.r.t. small and large operations.

Why not "compare and contrast" (as my high school english teacher would say) farming grapes for wine and farming fruits and vegetables for eating?

There are so many interesting sub-points for discussion; a handful off the top of my head are:

differences in grape production between producers/farmes that grow grapes to sell to winemakers vs. vineyards that grow their own grapes;

farming issues and challenges of small vs large grape growers/wineries

farming practices for growing wine grapes in different countries or regions

economic issues that influence grape growers and/or winemakers (some good discussion in the beginning of Matt Kramer's "New California Wine".

differences in types of agricultural practices for growing grapes (biodynamic, organic, else)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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I do not see how grape growers are not farmers even if winemakers may not be. To me, a farmer is someone who raises crops be they fruit, vegetables or meat. The ultimate product is essentially irrelevent.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I do not see how grape growers are not farmers even if winemakers may not be. To me, a farmer is someone who raises crops be they fruit, vegetables or meat. The ultimate product is essentially irrelevent.

Is a cashier at McDonalds a waiter?

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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I tend to believe that a vinyard is a type of farm. The land is set aside for agricultural purposes. I really don't think it should matter who owns it or how much money they make. What the person/company does after the harvest with the product should be irrelevant. Would you say a tract of land growing hops, for the sole purpose of using it in beer, is not a farm (and if not than what is it)?

So just to be clear, if you grow table grapes and sell them to people at the farmers market you are a farmer.  If you grow grapes and sell them to someone who makes them into wine, you might be a farmer.  If you grow grapes and make them into wine yourself you are catigorically not a farmer.

Well said! (Bold in first quote added by me).

Trying to falsely redefine the meaning of a word doesen't advance the discussion.

One can appreciate and support (as I do) small, local and sustainable farming for food without redefining everything else as "not farming". There are different types of farms; discussions on them should focus on their own merits, deficiencies and purposes.

It also seems strange (to me) to attach a moral superiority to growing grapes for food vs growing them for wine.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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I do not see how grape growers are not farmers even if winemakers may not be. To me, a farmer is someone who raises crops be they fruit, vegetables or meat. The ultimate product is essentially irrelevent.

Is a cashier at McDonalds a waiter?

That is a faulty analogy IMO. I don't really understand the logic of why perenniel vs annual is a significant distinction for such a broad designation.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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