Anybody can make wine from grapes even if they don’t have the space or time to maintain their own backyard vineyard. There may be more options available to buy grapes if you live in a wine-producing region, but even if you live where commercial vineyards are scarce you can still get your hands on high-quality grapes. Here are some tips to help you source your own grapes:
Direct from a vineyard
This will usually only be an option for those of you who live within driving distance to a vineyard, but getting grapes straight from the source is a great option for home winemakers who want to see, touch, and taste their grapes, before bringing them home. Each vineyard is different (and many don’t make grapes available to home winemakers looking to buy smaller quantities) so the best thing to do is plan ahead. Vineyards often have their fruit contracted in the spring, so contact the vineyard manager before bud break and tell them what you are looking for. It also pays to follow-up and visit through the growing year, as small quantity orders likely are not high on their priority list and it’s good to let them know your expectations. If there are minimum purchase requirements, a great way to meet them is to find other home winemakers in the market for grapes. In years where crops are larger than expected there may be good deals to be had at harvest, but banking on that is like playing the lottery.
If you are traveling less than an hour to pick up the grapes then transporting them shouldn’t be too bad, but any more than that and you will want to have them transported in a refrigerated vehicle. This means you’ll have to rent a vehicle — which is also easier if you can split the cost with other members of a home winemaking club.
Other than calling or visiting vineyards to find a supplier, check with local winegrape commissions and area vintners groups. Depending where you live, you may find “marketplaces” online where local vineyards advertise surpluses — such as www.sonomawinegrape.org/marketplace or www.amadorwinegrapes.com.
Also, don’t be afraid to inquire with other home winemakers who have hobby vineyards. If they grow more than they need, they may be willing to part with a couple hundred pounds for a fellow hobbyist.
Wholesalers, grape brokers, or retail shops
Feel like you don’t have time to visit vineyards and work out the purchasing details yourself? There are many grape wholesalers, brokers, and winemaking supply shops that sell fresh and frozen grapes, and most of them allow online ordering so even if there isn’t one in your area, grapes are just a couple clicks away. In addition to the ease, a benefit of buying grapes this way is that they will be getting grapes over a window of time (September through November for North American grapes, or April and May for Southern Hemisphere grapes) and reputable suppliers will store the grapes in coolers to keep them fresh, so your opportunity to buy grapes isn’t missed if one day doesn’t work for you. That may not be the case when buying grapes from a vineyard.
Another benefit is many of these sources will provide custom crushing services, and pressing for whites, which can reduce transportation costs and save you from the necessity to buy the equipment yourself.
Do your research and talk with these wholesalers to ensure they have what you are looking for at a price you are willing to pay. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the grapes — what region, and even vineyard, they come from, what climate they were grown in, when they are harvested, how they are shipped, etc. If possible, inspect the grapes before purchase to make sure they are what you expected.