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West Coast Wine Grape Tonnage Falls

March 2016
by Andrew Adams
Average price for California wine grapes

San Rafael, Calif.—California’s wine grape production slipped 5% in 2015, and average prices for wine grapes fell by as much as 12% from the previous year, according to the preliminary California Grape Crush Report released Feb 10.


In Washington, the 2015 harvest came in 2% smaller than the previous year at 222,000 tons. While there are still no hard numbers about the harvest in Oregon, the sense is that state will record another harvest of large size and exceptional quality.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, which prepared the preliminary report about California’s harvest, red wine grape production in 2015 dropped 5% from the previous year to 2.04 million tons, and white grapes also slipped 5% to 1.66 million tons. The total wine grape harvest of 3.69 million tons in 2015 represented a decrease of slightly more than 5% from the 2014 harvest.

Two harvests, two markets
While the interior regions of California enjoyed average to slightly larger than normal yields, prices continued to fall for grapes from those areas. The average price paid for all wine grape varieties was $675 per ton, which was 11% less than the 2014 average. Red wine grapes fetched an average of $784 per ton (down by 12%), and the average price paid for white wine grapes was 10% lower than the previous year at $539.

District 13, which includes the southern San Joaquin Valley counties of Madera and Fresno, accounted for 1.43 million tons, or the largest share of the state’s grape crop. The average price paid for grapes from this district dropped from $311 to $296 per ton.

Prices for grapes from premium regions increased from the previous year. Napa County grapes had the highest average price of $4,329 per ton, which was 6% more than in 2014. The average price for Napa grapes was 77% higher than grapes from crush District 3 (Sonoma and Marin counties), which recorded the second-highest average price of $2,441 per ton.

Chardonnay continued to account for the largest share of the state’s total grape harvest at 16%, or 633,005 tons reported. The average price for Chardonnay fell 9% from 2014 to $786 per ton. In Sonoma County the price for Chardonnay was $2,060 per ton, a 4.5% increase, and in Napa County it was $2,528, or 6% higher than the previous year.

The average price per ton for Cabernet Sauvignon, which had the next-highest share by varietal at 11.8%, or 454,695 tons, dropped 9% to $1,302.

Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa County, however, posted an average price of $6,224 per ton (up 7%); Sonoma County Cabernet averaged $2,642 (up 3%), and the price grew 16% to $1,681 per ton in District 8, which includes the Paso Robles AVA.

Pinot Noir tonnage totaled 184,233 in 2015 and was the most expensive in Sonoma County, where the price per ton increased 8% to $3,512. The varietal’s average price grew 11% to $2,943 per ton in the Central Coast and was up 4% to $2,621 per ton in Napa.

Sonoma County’s Pinot Noir production fell by 36%, and Chardonnay was down 27%. This drop in tonnage caused prices for grapes and bulk wine to start to increase during the latter half of 2015—despite the large harvests of previous years. “We’ve already been seeing consistent demand for key varieties,” said Steve Fredricks, president of Turrentine Brokerage in Novato, Calif. He added that the market has shifted back to a more balanced position with strong activity for bulk wine and grapes. “We’re more balanced now than we were feeling a year ago at this time,” he said. “There’s fewer tons and fewer bulk gallons for sale today than at the same time last year.”

Harvest in the Northwest
The Washington State Wine Commission and National Agricultural Statistics Service issued their annual wine grape report Feb. 8, indicating that the 2015 crop was down 2%. The drop from 227,000 tons in 2014 to 222,000 tons in 2015 was driven by a 10,000-ton decline in white wine varieties. Riesling alone was down 6,400 tons, while Cabernet Sauvignon production increased by 5,200 tons.

The gain once more crowned Cabernet Sauvignon the king of Washington state grapes, a title it first earned in 2013 as it overtook Riesling on the back of aggressive plantings that have continued to accelerate.

Michelle Kaufmann, communications manager for the Oregon Wine Board, told Wines & Vines in mid-February that the group was still conducting its census on the 2015 harvest and would release total numbers for production and bearing acreage later this year.

Anecdotally, she said it appears the state should expect confirmation of a harvest similar to 2014 in terms of tonnage and, and because of cooler weather from the end of August through October that extended ripening, exceptional quality as well. Oregon growers produced 78,264 tons from 24,494 bearing acres in 2014.

“The sense I’m getting is we’re going to be in the same general ballpark of last year,” Kaufmann said. “All indications are pointing to another large vintage of exceptional quality.”

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