Vineyard Managers Share Tips for Finding the Right Equipment

[This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of Vintner Magazine.]

When it comes to growing and harvesting grapes for your wine, it pays to be well-equipped.

There’s no question that buying the best equipment you can afford on your budget can help cut the big jobs down to size. For this issue, Vintner Magazine reached out to wineries that handle every step of the process from grape to glass and asked their leadership teams to share what they’ve learned to prioritize when buying vineyard equipment.

Hosmer Winery in the Finger Lakes region of New York has been growing grapes since 1972, when it planted its first vines by Cayuga Lake in what is now Patrician Verona Vineyard. The winery that bears the Hosmer family name was established in 1985 and is still in the family today.

Having reliable equipment — including a Ford tractor the Hosmers have been putting to use for more than 40 years — is essential to the process.

“My suggestion for buying equipment is No. 1, look at service and parts availability,” co-owner Timothy Hosmer said. “A broken machine that you can’t get parts for or get fixed by a dealer is no use at all.”

When buying a tractor, Hosmer’s tips include looking at:

  • Footprint: Width is an important consideration.
  • Flexibility: Can it handle a wide variety of tasks/implements?
  • Horsepower: “Not really such a thing as too much,” Hosmer said.
  • Hydraulic capacity: The more mechanized you get with modern implements, the more the hydraulic demand. 

“My personal philosophy on tractors on our farm is to have at least one, modern, powerful, spray-safe cab tractor to use for spraying and other tasks that require that higher end horsepower, hydraulic flow and modern amenities, and then we have several older, cheaper, smaller tractors for light duty tasks such as under-vine cultivation, mowing and fertilizer spreading,” Hosmer said. “We like old Ford 3000-series machines for this role and own four. This gives us some flexibility to have multiple implements ready to work all at the same time when the grapes are growing fast and multiple tasks have to happen all in the same time frame. 

“For example, we might have a crop sprayer, a weed sprayer, an under-vine cultivator, a mower, and a fertilizer spreader all hooked to different tractors at the same time around bloom. This allows us to have multiple tasks happening at the same time in the field without wasting time switching implements on and off tractors, and also, by using a fleet of less expensive tractors to achieve it, we’re not breaking the bank in the process.” 

Hosmer said there were a lot of good brands out there, and that they believed the best reason to be brand loyal was to simplify things.

“It isn’t so much the brand itself, it’s just more about sticking to what we already have,” he said. “Parts and service can all come through one dealer. It’s just one less thing to have in the Rolodex.”

Mark Misch, Winemaker at Ingleside Vineyards in Virginia, echoed Hosmer’s appreciation for tractors, emphasizing its importance for starting or improving a vineyard. He said he and his colleagues were all in agreement on one thing when it comes to tractors.

“The one thing we have all come to agree upon is having a tractor with a cab and air conditioning,” Misch said. “This allows you to work in the dead of the summer without having to worry about heat stroke, or severe sunburning. It gives you the flexibility to bush hog, mow, pull leaves, or hedge, even if you have rain. 

“Some people don’t like to work the vineyard in the rain, but if I know I have work that needs done and I can’t let it go while we have a week of rain I can make it happen. It costs a little more, but I’ve found it to be of great benefit to myself and those who work for me.”

Beyond tractors, Hosmer said their Braun grape hoe for under-vine cultivation had helped the vineyard tremendously.

“It’s rugged, reliable, and rapid,” he said. “It has an automatic trip arm for sensing vines which allows for better accuracy in the cultivation and greater speed.” 

The Binger deleafer has also been a huge labor saver in the vineyard, he said. “Pulling leaves by hand is pretty slow,” Hosmer explained. “The Binger is a ‘force multiplier’ that allows one person on a tractor to do the work of around 10 hand laborers.” 

But their best investment, Hosmer said, has been their grape harvester.

“The labor savings is enormous, although you do have to have a certain amount of acreage to really make it worthwhile,” Hosmer said. “We use an Oxbo harvester, and that choice was based completely on the availability of parts and service in our area.” 

When shopping, don’t forget about tractor attachments and accessories.

Jan Palaggi, co-owner of Palaia Winery and Meadery in New York, said their Green Hoe, which allows them to hill up vines and remove weeds without chemicals, had been a good investment.

“It’s also good to get a good vine rake,” she said. “Getting those vine clippings out of the vineyard is important — not just grinding them up. Any vine infections or problems are out.”

Palaggi said the simplest and most vital accessories to own were forks for the tractor.

“You need them for everything — taking empty bottles off trucks, deliveries of all kinds from vineyard posts to pallets,” she said. “ Picking up bins of fruit, taking bins of waste to dump…so many uses.”

She said they also make good use of their golf cart, which fits a 25-gallon sprayer, and John Deere Gator, which has a dump bed and fits between the rows.

“It’s been a very good investment — we have had our Gator for 20 years,” she said.

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