In Search of Profit, Tobacco Farms Morph Into Vineyards
By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 20, 2009 12:30 PM CDT
Assistant wine maker Jacob Holman shows students in the University of MIssouri's first Wine School a cap irrigator used in red wine fermentation.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – A falloff in demand and an end to subsidies has tobacco farmers across the country turning to the vino, the Wall Street Journal reports—farming grapes and making wine, that is. “The small-plot tobacco farmer is a thing of the past,” says a North Carolina wine official, who notes that wine production is one of the few ways small, family-run farms can eek out a profit on their land. But the transition to vineyard isn’t cheap: Every acre cost $10,000 to $17,000 to develop, compared to $3,000 for tobacco.

It also takes up to 5 years for the grapes to be ready to harvest, and growing them isn't enough: Simply selling grape to producers is a losing proposition; make wine in house and the equation changes. But there are plenty of pitfalls there, too: a crowded market, learning how to bottle and store it, and surviving the 8 to 10 years it takes a winery to break even. Still, the number of wineries in Virginia has skyrocketed from 99 to 170 since 2004; in North Carolina it's more than doubled, from 45 to 94.