The purpose of this document is to address the questions and concerns most often raised by those considering the establishment of a commercial vineyard in Maryland. The pros and cons of such an undertaking, along with important factors such as site selection, winery requirements and economic considerations are discussed. Detailed information about the actual planting and maintenance of the vines is documented in a number of publications cited in Section VI.
While the material included here is intended for potential commercial growers, much of it will apply to the 'backyard' vineyardist as well.
There is a significant shortage of grapes in the state, and no relief is currently in sight. At present, supply is roughly 50% of demand.
Much of the fruit is purchased by local wineries, most of whom would readily expand if more grapes were available. As it is, Maryland laws restrict purchase of grapes from out-of-state sources unless it can be shown that local production is inadequate, or that the varieties sought are not available in Maryland. Most wineries prefer to buy Maryland grapes, but understandably make significant purchases elsewhere in order to meet the increasing demands of their customers.
There are a growing number of amateur wine-makers in Maryland who likewise find that their demand for grapes cannot be adequately met. They too turn to out-of-state markets, and even order grapes from the west coast to meet their needs.
The quality of Maryland grapes is generally high. It will be forever debated whether Maryland is a better place to grow grapes than Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, etc, but no one questions the quality of the end product -- the wines which are increasingly receiving world-wide recognition.
Much of the risk of grape growing in Maryland has been reduced in recent years, due to more and better information, the experience of pioneers in this field, and improvements in grape pest management. Grape growing provides a good alternative to crops whose future is in doubt, eg, tobacco, and a good adjunct to existing crops such as apples and peaches. Once established, a vineyard can provide a steady income.
On the debit side, no one is going to get rich quick by growing grapes. A heavy investment is required up front, and it could be 6-7 years before the venture starts turning a profit. The potential grape-grower is off to a good start if he already owns the land and some or all of the equipment required, such as tractor, sprayer, etc.
Also, grapevines demand more attention than many other fruit crops, especially during the growing season. And when winter pruning is factored in, it becomes quickly obvious that maintaining a commercial vineyard of more than 2-3 acres is more than a weekend activity.
Careful planning is a must. Vineyards are not established overnight, and rushing into decisions inevitably results in unnecessary expenditures and time-consuming reparations down the pike.