By Maegan Beatty
Throughout the U.S., there are over 28,000 farms growing grapes on over 1.1 million acres. The top grape growing states are California, Washington, New York and Oregon. While Florida is not included on this list, the grape industry is rising in popularity due to the agritourism opportunities. Some of these opportunities include grape vineyards and wineries.
In May, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) hosted a grape field day, where participants learned about all different aspects of grapes, including information about diseases and marketing techniques. Dr. Kevin Athearn is a researcher at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center in Suwannee Valley. His presentation revolved around agritourism in the grape industry and what producers can do to implement certain marketing strategies.
VINEYARD AND WINERY CONSIDERATIONS
If a producer is interested in opening a public vineyard or winery institution, there are many factors that need to be considered. Regarding food safety for vineyards, farmers must follow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policies. Some of the food safety aspects that should be noted include: water quality, use of compost, possible contamination from animals, worker training and sanitation.
Regarding wineries, producers are required to attain a permit to open a winery and must register with the FDA to serve alcoholic beverages. Growers also must comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act which requires safety training of employees, good manufacturing practices and accurate recordkeeping.
At a more local level, some considerations include zoning laws, health codes, sales surtax and county law. There are two counties (Lafayette and Liberty) in the state of Florida that are considered “dry.” This forbids the selling of alcoholic beverages. Growers should research the local county policies before attempting to open a winery.
Some other organizations that farmers should keep in mind in regard to wineries and vineyards include the Environmental Protection Agency, Internal Revenue Service, Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Agriculture. You can find information on regulations at each of their respective websites.
MARKETING FLORIDA GRAPES
When promoting this Florida crop, growers should keep in mind how consumers are using grapes. 88% of consumers use grapes as a snack, 18% use grapes as a dessert and 10%-13% of consumers use grapes as a side dish, salad, recipe ingredient or appetizer as of 2020. Additionally, 66% of consumers prefer green seedless grapes, 63% of consumers prefer red seedless grapes and 30% of consumers prefer blue and black seedless grapes.
Demographically, grapes tend to attract the older age groups from higher incomes. Buyers want to purchase large, sweet and firm grapes for consumption. Sellers can also focus on the fact that the grapes are locally grown, have a variety of health benefits and are a convenient snack or ingredient for the household. The same qualities apply when promoting wineries in Florida.
“You’re promoting not only the winery, but the local products that are being used to create the products,” Athearn said.
BECOMING A CERTIFIED FLORIDA FARM WINERY
If a farmer wants to open a certified Florida farm winery, they must follow these regulations:
- Produce and sell less than 250,000 gallons of wine annually of which 60% of wine produced is made from state agricultural products.
- Maintain an operating vineyard with a minimum of 5 acres of owned or managed land in Florida that produces commodities used in the production of wine.
- Be open to the public for tours, tastings and sales at least 30 hours each week.
- Apply to Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services FDACS for certification and annual recertification