|San Jacinto News-Times - Local News
Copyright 2011 - Polk County Publishing Company
Local couple looking forward to fruits of labor
San Jacinto News- Times
Knowing that a good bottle of wine starts in the vineyard, John and Judi Benestante are working hundreds of grape vines in their vineyards in Coldspring and Richards, Texas to produce the best fruit possible. “It’s work and you have to like being outside,” Judi said recently during a presentation for the Coldspring/San Jacinto County Chamber of Commerce. Sharing her knowledge of the grape growing business, Judi said it takes a fi ve-year plan to produce an income from a vineyard, but during those fi ve years you have the benefi t of a great tax writeoff. “It is defi nitely a longrange investment,” she said. You can’t harvest the grapes for the fi rst three years while getting the vineyard established. Vines must be started from established plants which cost from $7 to $10 per vine. A good, preferably sandy soil is preferred and irrigation and trellises are needed for the vines to establish themselves. “Normally trellises are 36 inches high but we made ours 66 inches high so the air can fl ow under them and the fruit can hang in the shade of the vines,” Judi said. Above ground storage tanks and water well provides the irrigation system needed to carry four gallons of water per day, in normal conditions, to each vine – two in the morning and two in the evening. Because vines are prolifi c and must be kept from growing into each other, pruning takes a lot of time as does the fi ght to keep weeds at a minimum. “We use chemicals to help with the weeding,” Judi said, adding, “There can be no wind when you use the chemicals. If any gets on the tender leaves, the entire plant will die.” The Benestantes got into the grape growing business following their retirement in 2006. Once retired they started a consulting business called the Benestante Group. Through their consulting business they met up with a friend of Judi’s who told them the grape business is the thing to do. The idea was dismissed Volunthe time, until her cousin approached them with the idea again. “I agreed to it as long as I could go back to school and learn how to do it right,” Judi said. Already with a doctorate in education, Judi found herself studying master gardening and viticulture at Texas A&M University for the next two years while earning her Viticulture specialist certification. Explaining the five wine regions of Texas, Judi said it is a huge moneymaking industry in the State of Texas. “We are in the Southeast Texas Gulf Coast region,” she said. Other regions include the Hill Country, High Plains, located in the Texas Panhandle, North Texas, known as DFW and West Texas. While the Hill country and High Plains regions are suited to growing a variety of grapes, there are basically two types of grape that flourish in the Gulf Coast region – the Blanc du Bois and the Lenoir, or Black Spanish variety, she said. “We have the Blanc du Bois and the Lenoir on our farm in Coldspring,” Judi said. Currently they have one acre under cultivation in Coldspring with 159 vines and 4,500 vines located in a seven-acre site in Richards. Describing John as the “money guy,” Judi said he knows all about the financial aspects of the industry. According to John, a ton of grapes will bring you about $1,500 in today’s market. “In a typical year you produce anywhere from three to five tons of grapes per acre. So, doing the math, $3,600 to $6,000 adding the cost involved in maintaining a vineyard, including water, chemicals and maintenance is about 40 percent of that.” Anywhere from three to five years you can start making a profit, he said. The first estimated harvest for the Coldspring site is 2013 and those grapes and the grapes at Richards have already been sold.