Our grape farming operation is named “South Shore Farms”, started in 1989 when Randy and Laura moved back to Randy’s heritage roots in this area. At first, South Shore Farms was just growing grapes for Welch’s. Over 2 decades the farm expanded to well more than 125 acres of vineyards and diversified into several different varieties of wine grapes in addition to the Concords for Welch’s.
Welch’s has a huge presence in our area, each fall the North East Welch’s plant receives more than 80 thousand tons of Concord grapes that are grown right here along the south shore of Lake Erie. Our South Shore Farm continues to grow and deliver an average of 1,000 tons of Concord grapes to Welch’s each year. Growing grapes for Welch’s is a huge advantage for our farm
At South Shore Farms we continue to invest in new vineyard plantings as Courtyard Winery’s needs for wine grapes increase. We start by preparing the land and always planting rows in a North – South orientation to evenly distribute the sunlight from one side of the row to the other, from morning to evening. When planting a new vineyard, we use a laser to guide our planting so that we end up with perfectly straight rows with exactly the right spacing, giving each vine an equal opportunity to produce the best quality fruit.
Planting a vineyard is just the beginning of a long process, in the third year after planting we expect to harvest a very small crop and in the fourth year about half a crop. At 5 years we will begin to reap the benefits of years of carefully tending to each vine, guiding it upward and along the wires so that the fruit will be evenly spaced and ready for harvesting.
We employ many different vineyard practices all with the goal of good stewardship of the land and long-term sustainability. Each winter when the vineyards are dormant and all the leaves are gone, every vine is hand pruned. Pruning the vine properly in the winter will insure good fruit exposure to sunlight the next summer. Proper pruning is also about controlling the crop size so that all of the fruit gets fully ripe and the flavors are well developed.
The prunings left behind in the winter are ground into mulch and left in the vineyard rows to add to the organic matter in the soil. Also the pumace, which is the skins and seeds of the grapes that are left after the grapes are pressed at the winery, are returned to vineyards and spread to add to the organic matter, these sustainable practices insure the health of our vineyard soils for decades to come.
Growing grapes is the beginning of the process of turning sunlight into wine, each step in the vineyard is just as important as each step at the winery.