Novavine Grapevine Nursery Grows More Than Six Million Vines Per Year
Article and Photo by Rachel LaFranchi
Published September 1, 2016
Novavine is a leading provider of young grapevines, grafting more than 6.5 million vines a year. Novavine also sold more than 50,000 olive trees in the last year.
The grapevine nursery was founded by Milton and Ellen Heath in 1996 and incorporated in 1997. Originally doing business from their Sebastopol home, the company moved to their current property, south of Santa Rosa in the Sonoma Valley, in 1998.
In 1997, Jay Jenson joined his mother’s company to help negotiate relationships with the world’s largest grapevine nursery, Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo (VCR), based in Italy. Jensen took over as the company’s CEO in 2002.
Now the company sells grapevines all over North America including Canada, Mexico and many countries in Central America. Novavine has sold grapevines to every state in the U.S. except Alaska. They have also sold and shipped vines to China.
When Novavine was started, VCR was selling 60 million vines worldwide – they now sell over 100 million a year. Novavine originally intended to partner with VCR and operate as their American arm, but quarantine restrictions for bringing vines into North America made it difficult.
After three years of struggling with VCR propagating the vines for Novavine, the nursery hired people and developed their own unique approach to wine grape propagation.
Novavine’s Sonoma Valley property is 27 acres and they have 100,000 square-feet of greenhousen. In addition to this, Novavine leases another 50,000 square-feet of greenhouse property. Their greenhouses grow 2.5 to 3 million vines a year.
Novavine farms 300 acres in Woodland, 200 acres are increase blocks where they grow rootstock and scions. The other 100 acres are used as a field nursery where they grow the remaining 3 to 4 million vines. The field nursery grows dormant vines which can be put in a box and shipped all around the world. The green vines grown in the greenhouses must be trucked and are primarily used throughout the state.
Novavine’s sales in Sonoma County make up approximately 20% of their business, and Jensen estimates the company talks with more than half of the companies putting in new vineyards.
While Novavine is a wholesale nursery primarily selling to large-scale customers, they started a program called NovaBackyard where they grow specifically for small-scale growers, an ever increasing market. NovaBackyard will ship however many plants the customer is looking for whether it’s one, five or more. NovaBackyard’s business primarily consists of 60% grapevines and 40% olives.
Novavine also grows figs and pomegranates on a small scale. Additionally, Jenson is also a partner with Goji Farm USA, growing approximately 10,000 goji plants for the production of Goji Phyto-Brew, an antioxidant drink.
Novavine is focused on quality and takes pride in their willingness to work with growers. Jensen said Novavine is not a sale and forget type of business, rather a business focused on developing long term relationships with their customers. Novavine has a viticulturist on staff as well as a sales team who each have 15 or more years of experience.
“We offer a lot of technical expertise along with our products,” Jensen said. “Agriculture is a relationship business and people want to see proof of the product. It takes a while to build these relationships, but we’re always looking towards the future.”
Jensen said Novavine offers many unique Italian varieties of grapevines, however most places already have their niche and these products aren’t big sellers. Jensen said with wine, if there isn’t recognition from the consumer end, sales of less-known varietals can be difficult.
In addition to developing customer relationships for the future, Novavine’s goal is to produce high-quality consistent products.
As per their motto “Innovate. Propagate. Thrive.”, Novavine also plans to innovate while producing a consistent product. It’s important to Jensen and his team to keep looking for a product or something they can do with the product to help their customers. They aim to solve problems and create solutions.
One recent example includes growing vines which are slightly taller. These vines tie on easier, creating less labor in an industry where finding labor can be an issue.
They are also working with their Italian partners VCR to bring mildew resistant varieties which don’t need to be sprayed for mildew to us U.S.. In the near future, they’re also planning to start selling drought and salt resistant rootstocks they’re bringing from Europe.
For more information visit Novavine.com.