top of page



Wine Maker Article / Vineyard Consultants: Backyard Vines Author:  Wes Hagen    /  Click Link Below for full article worth reading 110%

Why hire a consultant? (The 9-1-1)

 As always, I try to provide resources and information that will allow you to teach yourself how to grow grapes. As I stress repeatedly, there is no such thing as a perfect vineyard, only a vineyard that is slowly being perfected. Even after 18 years here at Clos Pepe, I am still learning every week how to microbalance the vines here. So to answer the question specifically, I see two specific reasons for hiring a vineyard consultant.


1. Hire a consultant at the beginning of the project to give you a proper start; eliminate mistakes made in the design, layout, preparation and planting of a new vineyard.

 2. Bring in a consultant as a result of failing to find pertinent and localized information to improve or save a vintage or vineyard. In other words you have searched and searched for information that is relevant to your vineyard site, and cannot find any information from universities, websites or other resources.


What a good vineyard consultant should do:

• Return your call or email within 48 hours.

• Give a clear schedule of fees, costs, etc. Give a clear indication who pays for travel costs, incidentals, etc.

• Offers a list of at least three previous clients who you can contact for referrals.

• Admits how much (or how little) experience they have with your specific locale, your varietals, and the wine style you are trying to produce.

• Seems to be honestly interested in your process.

• Will offer a balanced view of vineyard installation and maintenance, stressing the relative difficulty in keeping up a vineyard and discouraging half-committed clients from planting a vineyard in the first place.


Pro tips for using a consultant:

• Young guns in the business are often more affordable and willing to travel. Look for young winegrowers with multi-generational winegrowing families, at least 5–10 years of experience, and those who express interest and expertise in what you are trying to accomplish.

• Taste wines from projects they have been personally involved with. Make sure they suit your taste.

• Be very clear about what you want and expect from a consultation, and let them know exactly what a successful consultation means to you and your vineyard.

• Let the consultant know (ahead of the initial consult) if you have soil and water test results available for them. It’s better to dig some test pits yourself and send your soil and water for testing so the consultant doesn’t have to complete these tests at $100/hour. If the consultant can have these tests when they arrive at your vineyard, you will save a lot of time and money on the consultation, and they will be able to instantly read your issues in context of actual scientific data.

• If you have pictures of your vineyard from each month, especially pics that show problems in certain vines, that will be helpful as well.

• Time the initial consult carefully. Having a pro arrive during dormancy or at budbreak may not be as helpful as them seeing the vineyard in late spring or early summer, which would be my best suggestion for timing for most issues, as well as suggestions concerning canopy management.

• Make sure you will get a written summary of their observations and recommendations as part of their hourly fee/consultation cost.

• Ask the consultant if you can videotape the consultation so you can watch it over and over for full value.


What is a bad consultant?

• One that tries to sell you a book instead of instigating a visit.

• One that thinks they can solve your problem without seeing the vineyard and/or soil and water test results.

• One without references or a professional resume that can be confirmed.

• One that has never had a job in the wine industry.

• A fruit tree consultant, or some other farmer/agronomist that does not specialize in grapes for varietal winegrape production.

• One who insists you scrap your whole vineyard so they can bring in their company (or one they are subsidized by) to redesign and replant your vineyard. Before taking any extreme advice of a consultant, it’s likely worth a second opinion.

• A consultant that has never worked (or studied growing/soil conditions) in your locale.


Questions to ask a prospective vineyard consultant

• What’s the best wine you’ve ever consulted on, and how did you add to the quality of that wine? (Is the wine available for me to taste?)

• How do you define vine balance?

• What is a great wine, and how does viticulture influence greatness?

• What expertise/experience do you have in my specific locale, and what major hurdles do you anticipate in the production of varietal wine here in my city and state?

• What do you think is the best wine grown commercially nearest to my home vineyard?

 There may not be a right or wrong answer for these questions, but a passionate and knowledgeable consultant should not hesitate in answering these queries.

 OK, OK, maybe I need a consultant. Now what?

 Your ease in finding a qualified consultant will depend on how close you are to: UC-Davis, Cal State Fresno, University of Minnesota, Iowa, Cornell or any other school with a viticulture program; or a commercial winegrowing area.

bottom of page