Growing wine grapes is a business—a good business. Despite the uncertainties of the marketplace, unpredictability of the weather and the vagaries of farming, growing wine grapes can produce a good income year after year if the vineyard is well run and well marketed.
Fortunately, once the vineyard is in the ground, the costs to operate the vineyard from year to year are pretty predictable. It costs $5,000 and up per acre to farm every year. This includes all farming costs. Other costs, such as insurance and interest expense have to be considered separately. For some reason that I have never understood, the cost of harvesting is considered separately as well at about $150 per acre.
Grapes are sold by the ton and prices vary from area to area and from variety to variety. In 2000 in Sonoma County, the average price for a ton of grapes was just under $2,000. However, Russian River Pinot was going for $3,500 a ton while some Chardonnay was going for $1,200 a ton. You have to look carefully at the variety and the appellation to determine actual price per ton you can expect.
Tons per acre varies considerably from variety to variety and from high quality grapes to low quality grapes. You can get as many as 10 tons to the acre or more for some varieties at lower qualities. But in general, you should consider about 4 tons to the acre or less for high quality grapes of most varieties. Average yields for Pinot Noir will be a little lower and most white grape varieties a little higher.
So, for a typical Sonoma County red wine grape variety, if you figure $2,200 a ton and 5 tons to the acre you should get about $11,000 an acre in revenue. Take away our average of $5,000 in costs + $150 per acre for harvest and you get $5,850 per acre in net income.