USDA Awards Grants to 34 Eastern Wineries

N.Y. Wine & Grape Foundation among industry associations to receive funding

by Linda Jones McKee
wine grape vineyard USDA grants
Source: USDA
Canandaigua, N.Y.—Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Nov. 15 that more than 70 U.S. agricultural organizations would be receiving $200 million from the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program, both of which are run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service. These grants to nonprofit organizations and cooperatives are designed to help expand export markets for U.S. farm and food products.

In his announcement, Vilsack stated, “USDA and the U.S. agricultural industry work together in a unique public-private partnership to open and grow markets around the world for high-quality, American-made farm and food products. The federal investment in these programs is multiplied by industry matching funds, not only boosting agricultural export revenue and volume, but also supporting farm income and enhancing the overall U.S. economy.”

Good news for New York

One wine organization on this year’s recipient list is the New York Wine & Grape Foundation (NYWGF), which will receive $461,932 in 2017 under the Market Access Program.

According to Susan Spence, vice president of the NYWGF and coordinator of the foundation’s export promotion program, the foundation uses the funds to increase awareness of New York as a wine-producing region. Spence stated, “We do this by 1) creating and producing educational materials regarding the New York wine industry–introducing readers to the regions and grape varieties of New York; 2) bringing wine media and buyers here to visit the wine regions and wineries; and 3) conducting educational seminars for trade and media in the target market.”

She explained that because the foundation’s program year is from July 1 to June 30, “We have or will use funds (from 2016) for activities in Canada, Japan, Hong Kong and the general ‘region’ of Europe, which includes Belgium, France, Germany and United Kingdom principally, but with efforts to help wineries with sales in Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and potentially other markets. We also keep an eye out for opportunities to address other potential markets such as China, the Bahamas, Brazil and Bermuda.”

Spence continued, “The 2017 grant won’t go into use until July 1, 2017, but our plan is about the same with most likely some shift in emphasis from one market to another based on the results of the 2016 program.”

The NYWGF has received grants from USDA for export projects each year since 1992. Spence summarized the importance of these grants to vineyards and wineries in New York: “I like to think that increasing awareness of New York as a wine-producing region has helped everyone to a certain degree. Obviously for the wineries that have participated and earned sales in the international markets there is the benefit of new customers. But even those wineries that are not yet interested or ready to participate can benefit from the effort others are making so that markets will be more receptive to their wines when they are ready or simply from there being less wine in the home market to compete against.

“I also think that the program has done a lot to help New York industry personnel get a very real glimpse of the international market and the competition they face in the global market.”

Value-Added Producer Grants for 34 wineries in the East
The USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grants were announced in late October. More than $45.6 million was awarded to 325 projects for 2017; included in that number are grants totaling $5,592,699 for 34 wineries in 15 states east of the Rockies. The maximum amount for working capital grants was $250,000, and 14 wineries got that full amount. In addition, up to $75,000 was available for planning grants.

Under USDA regulations, the program provides competitive grants to producers for working capital, feasibility studies, business plans and marketing efforts to establish viable value-added businesses. Independent producers, agricultural producer groups, farmer or rancher cooperatives and majority-controlled producer-based business ventures are eligible to apply for the grants. The program has a cost-sharing requirement of cash or eligible in-kind matching funds equal to at least the amount of the grant funds requested.

“These grants provide a much-needed source of financing to help producers develop new product lines, increase their income and keep that income in their communities,” Vilsack stated. “Economic development initiatives like this one are working; the unemployment rate in rural America is at an eight-year low, and incomes rose 3.4% last year.”

Of the 14 wineries receiving the full amount ($250,000) in working capital grants, the oldest vineyard is Niagara Landing Wine Cellars in Lockport, N.Y. Peter Andrew Smith, who has owned the vineyards since 1990 and started the winery in 1998, represents the third generation in his family to farm the land. His grandfather, Charles Arthur Smith, bought 2 acres of vineyard (some of the vines dated back to 1895) in 1933 and helped found Welch’s Growers Cooperative in 1945.

Peter Smith plans to use the grant funds to increase sales of his company’s Rosebud wines. These wines include peach, blackberry and raspberry, and they are described as lighter, fruitier and sweet. The rosé is listed as a 10.5 on a sweetness scale from 1 to 10.

The oldest grant-winning winery is Chautauqua Vineyards & Winery in Defuniak Springs, Fla. Founded in 1989, the winery is owned by Paul Owens and produces 20,000 cases of wine per year. Owens wants to use the grant to expand the market for bottled Muscadine grape wines as well as bulk grape juice and wine products.

Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner, Maine, one of the smallest wineries to receive a full grant, is now run by the ninth generation of the Ricker family to grow apples on the property. Primarily an apple orchard, the winery produces ciders under the name “Mainiac Hard Ciders.” The funds will be used to unify the brand, expand product reach nationally and increase production of hard cider, fruit wines, carbonated sweet ciders and raw apple cider vinegar.

Four wineries in Virginia receiving the largest grants will use those funds for similar purposes: to assist with marketing, labor and supplies to increase wine production and sales. For example, Rappahannock Cellars in Huntly, Va., currently produces 12,000 cases per year. Allan Delmare, Rappahannock’s marketing director, told Wines & Vines, “We’re planning to use the funds to expand production. Our wine club has been so successful that it’s created an inventory issue, so we need to ramp up the volume of wine.”

The other Virginia wineries receiving grants include Marceline Vineyards in Mt. Crawford, Stanburn Winery in Stuart and Upper Shirley Vineyards in Charles City.

Wineries in four additional states received $250,000 grants: Yonah Mountain Vineyards in Cleveland, Ga., Petoskey Farms Vineyard & Winery in Petoskey, Mich., Thousand Islands Winery in Alexandria Bay, N.Y., Vizcarra Family Vineyards in Gasport, N.Y., Grovedale Winery and Vineyard in Wyalusing, Pa., Stony Run Winery in Kempton, Pa., and the Appalachian Region Wine Producers Association located in Maynardville, Tenn.

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