Wine Grape Field Day offers education for would-be vintners

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If you go

What: Wine Grape Field Day, which will include classes, a tour of Bethany Vineyard and Winery, and wine tasting.

When: Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Where: Begins at Heritage Farm, 1919 N.E. 78th Street, Vancouver.

Cost: $30

Information: 360-397-6060, ext. 5701 or ext. 5738; online registration at https://ocrs.wsu.edu/signup/?eventid=659.

Charles Brun is used to fielding questions. As a horticulture adviser for Washington State University Extension at Vancouver’s Heritage Farm, he takes questions from both the home gardening set and people who want to farm commercially. And, eventually, the conversation shifts to wine grapes and vineyards.

“It’s the classic mom and pop business, but you really want to do your homework before jumping in,” Brun said.

That’s why Brun has assembled Wine Grape Field Day, a daylong exploration of wine grape cultivation, wine making and liquor licensing laws. The day also includes a tour of Bethany Vineyard and Winery in Ridgefield and, of course, a bit of wine tasting.

The $30 class runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and starts at Heritage Farm, 1919 N.E. 78th St. For information or to register, call 360-397-6060, ext. 5701 or ext. 5738.

High upfront costs

Some 11 wineries, mostly new, are now scattered across Clark County, with new vineyards being planted. John Choquer, who will be talking about biodynamic growing techniques, has planted 13,000 wine grape vines on his 11-acre farm over the last two years. Choquer, a carpenter who also has plans to make and sell oak wine barrels, figures he’ll make his first wine vintage in 2013.

On average, it takes between three and five years for a grape vine to mature into production. From there, it’s another nine to 24 months before a vintage is ready.

And it’s not a cheap endeavor to start.

Brun estimates it costs, on average, $20,000 per acre for a do-it-yourself type to plant a new vineyard. And that’s before the cost of land. The cost can go up exponentially if someone else is hired to plant a vineyard.

Despite the high upfront costs, Clark County wineries say their businesses are thriving, even as the economy and consumer spending have sagged.

“I think people are still wanting to go wine tasting and enjoy getting out for the day,” said Michele Bloomquist, owner of Heisen House Vineyards in Battle Ground.

Bloomquist estimates she sold about 300 cases of wine last year. There are 12 bottles to a case. Her wines ranged in price from $19 to $29 per bottle.

Statewide, Washingtonians consumed 9.3 million cases of wine in 2010, according to Wine Institute statistics. Some 330 million cases of U.S. wine sold in 2010, up 4 percent from 2009, according to the Wine Institute.

Walt Houser, the 73-year-old owner of Bethany Vineyard and Winery, won’t disclose his case sales. But, like Bloomquist, he said wine sales have been steady, mostly because people enjoy visiting a winery, tasting the wines, and chatting. (Most Clark County wineries charge a $5 tasting fee, which they waive with a wine purchase).

“The ambiance of a vineyard, to see the grapes grow,” is what draws people, Houser said, adding that summertime concerts and weddings have also spurred business at the 26½-acre vineyard, which includes a walking path through the vineyard and around a small lake.

Houser, who drinks a glass of wine each day with dinner, will talk about the fermenting process on Saturday. Afterward, participants can finish the day with a taste of his wine.

And, Houser hopes, some of those students will go on to open their own wineries.

“The more (wineries) we have, the better it is,” Houser said. “It makes us a destination for people.”