CHRIS GRANSTROM LEADS a wagon ride through his New Haven vineyard last Thursday after a presentation by USDA Rural Development. Four Vermont agricultural businesses, including Granstrom’s Lincoln Peak Vineyard, received grants from the USDA to expand production of value-added food products.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
NEW HAVEN — Chris and Michaela Granstrom have grown grapes at Lincoln Peak Vineyard in New Haven for about five years and sold them to a winery to turn into a retail product. But thanks to a $116,550 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant bestowed last week, the Granstroms are expanding the winery they built last year and will be producing and selling wine of their own.
Chris Granstrom said that a $22,250 planning grant awarded last year revealed that producing their own wine will probably be much more profitable than selling grapes wholesale, so the choice was an easy one.
“It seemed like a great time to jump in,” he said.
The grant was one of four awarded under the USDA’s Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program in an event last Thursday at Lincoln Peak Vineyards. The grants are intended to make agricultural businesses more profitable by helping them prepare their products for direct retail sales or by enabling them to specialize to a greater degree. For example, a grant could help farmers that produce a raw material like grapes or milk — which could be sold wholesale to a processor — take their commodities and turn them into finished products, like wine or cheese.
The idea here is that farmers would make ultimately make more money selling products retail rather than wholesale.
Granstrom hopes that with the recent development of new, more cold-resistant breeds of grapes, the time is ripe for wineries in the area. “I think that this can become an important part of Vermont agriculture.”
There was a market for raw grapes grown at Lincoln Peak Vineyard, but Granstrom expects that the business will be much more profitable now they are making wine themselves instead of selling grapes in bulk. This is their second year making wine on-site.
The grant, which requires 50 percent matching funds from the vineyard itself, cannot be spent on building, but will help with other expenses of expanding the winery and adding a retail sales space to the 11-acre vineyard, which is located on River Road near Route 7. Granstrom plans to do most of his business out of that space, and the remainder of his wine would be sold through other retail outlets.
“We hope to sell about 90 percent of our product right there,” he said.
Ten years ago such a business would probably not have been possible because why of the cold climate. But new, hybrid breeds of grapes developed by the University of Minnesota over the past decade have the flavor of European grapes but the greater ability to survive cold temperatures of some North American breeds.
Lincoln Peak Vineyards will be producing six types of wine, and Granstrom is particularly optimistic about two: La Crescent, a fruity white wine similar to a Reisling, and a dry red wine called Marquette. The latter is a hybrid of Pinot Noir for flavor and Vitis Riperia for hardiness. Granstrom said Lincoln Peak will probably sell its wines for about $11 to $15 per bottle.
A total of $397,000 in VAPG grants were doled out at last week’s New Haven ceremony.
Lincoln AgriSource of Randolph Center will use its $74,412 grant as the capital to turn something that has been a waste product into a product that can be sold for a profit. The timber harvesting business will use the grant to investigate whether it can convert wood pulp into biomass fuel pellets.
“It figures out how to take a worthless commodity in some cases and a waste product in others and make it have real value,” said Jack Gleason, senior advisor to the USDA Rural Development program.
In addition to Lincoln Peak Vineyards and the Randolph Center timber company, two other Vermont businesses also received grants that were announced at Thursday’s ceremony. Agri-Mark/Cabot Creamery Cooperative, Inc. received a VAPG of $149,000 to help increase production of natural rind cheese.
Due to the space needed to age the labor-intensive cheese properly, Cabot will use the money to expand. Like most of the company’s specialty cheeses, the natural rind cheese will be made at its main facility in the town of Cabot.
In addition, a $57,000 grant was awarded to Pete’s Greens and Good Eats, a Craftsbury-based community supported agriculture farm. Pete Johnson, the owner of the business and a Middlebury College graduate, plans to use the grant to add a commercial kitchen and retail store on his farm.
Granstrom almost stumbled on the grant program by accident, but after how the process helped his business, he said he is willing to help other local businesses who may be interested in a similar effort.
“This money is available, and people are eager to fund well-thought-out projects,” he said.