Published: 1 years 196 days ago
At the south edge of Clear Lake, California, David Weiss runs Bella Vista Farming Company, which manages about 300 acres of winegrapes and almost 500 acres of pears. He sees a stark contrast between the two crops, where fortunes have differed sharply in his 15 years of farming.
“The pear industry is now about half the size it was when I started,” he said. “Wine, on the other hand, has great potential for growth in Lake County. We’re described as the last frontier – the last part of the North Coast wine scene to be discovered – so it feels like there’s upside potential. It’s still affordable, our quality is gaining recognition, and we’re positioned well.”
One big difference he sees between the two crops is the way they are marketed. “Pears are basically treated as a commodity, while North Coast wine is just the opposite,” Weiss offered. “In the upper end of the quality spectrum there are a lot of branded products and people are oriented toward differentiating their wines.” He is concerned about pressure from imports affecting all of U.S. agriculture, but believes that the one thing that will keep winegrapes viable is market differentiation. “As long as the market continues to appreciate the unique qualities of wine, the business will be fine. Where we really find it tough is when we pay locally for our inputs, including the high cost of regulatory compliance, but we compete globally for price.”
Californians, Weiss observed, have a high appreciation for environmental protection, so the local market appreciates sustainability more than any other. In addition, the wine sector’s efforts to improve sustainable practices increase credibility with lawmakers and regulators at the state and federal levels.
“One thing about winegrapes,” Weiss said, “it’s really easy to grow them sustainably. We take soft approaches in dealing with invasive pests; we take care of the environmental side; we take care of employees; and we take care of the economics.”