California Vineyard Values Continue Rise

Prices per acre track Cabernet value in Napa, Pinot Noir in Sonoma, nut crops in Central Valley

by Paul Franson
Source: The Correia Co.

Santa Rosa, Calif.—At the annual North Coast meeting of Allied Grape Growers last week, Tony Correia of The Correia Co. reported about California vineyards and land prices, correlating those to a dramatic jump in crop value in Napa and Sonoma counties from 2011 to 2012. They doubled for Sonoma Pinot Noir and grew 50% for Napa Cabernet.

The rise in value of the total California crop value itself has been spectacular during the past four decades. In 1973, the California grape crop totaled about $40 million, rising sharply until 2000, when it plateaued at about $1.75 billion before starting a steep rise again in 2010. It now sits at a little over $3 billion.

During that time, tonnage grew from 1 million to 4 million tons, while average price per ton rose from $200 to $750 for the state (and higher in Napa and Sonoma counties).

The total crop value was relatively static from 1997 to 2008, when it began a significant rise. A major factor in the increase was “the great grape shortage of 2012,” as Correia put it. “Wineries returned to the market, aggressively firming up sourcing, buying vineyards and land to plant new vineyards” as a result of the grape shortage.

Three recent deals underscored the demand for vineyards: Duckhorn Wine Co. bought the famed Three Palms Merlot Vineyard in May. The Wine Group bought Benziger Family Winery and its prime Sonoma Valley land in June, then Constellation Brands bought the Meiomi brand for $315 million from Joe Wagner, who said he would use the proceeds to buy 2,000 to 3,000 acres of California vineyards in the next five years.

Napa Valley
Correia then took a look at land prices in different grapegrowing regions of California, starting with the most valuable, Napa Valley.

In 2014, Napa County Cabernet Sauvignon averaged $6,000 per ton, and about 67,000 tons were crushed.—compared to 33,000 tons at $1,500 in 1995.

What’s particularly interesting is that after averaging about $250 million per year from 2005 to 2011, the average value jumped 50% to $375 million from 2012 through 2014.

Cabernet acreage grew 87% from 1995 to 2014, with Merlot up 25% and Pinot Noir up 19%, while Chardonnay acreage dropped 21%.

Vineyard values track Cabernet grape prices, as expected; Chardonnay prices per ton have remained static since 2001.

Around 2004, the prices of prime Napa vineyards made a big jump—from a $175,000 maximum per acre to the more current value of $300,000 per acre. (This land starts at about $225,000 per acre.)

“We’ve seen prices over $500,000 per acre for small, special vineyards in top sites,” Correia noted. “Everyone wants to be in higher end wines.”

Secondary Napa Valley land is priced at $100,000-$225,000, while that in outlying areas of the county is $40,000-$100,000, all up from 2004-05, but not as dramatically. Even prime, unplanted land can sell for $100,000-$175,000, though open land outside prime areas starts at $25,000.

Sonoma County
Pinot Noir prices have become the bellwether in Sonoma County, with vineyard values more nearly tracking them while Chardonnay has stabilized and Cabernet is less of a factor.

Sonoma Pinot prices grew from $1,000 per ton to $3,250 from 1995 to 2014, while production grew from 13,000 tons to more than 47,000 tons.

In Sonoma County, the total value of the Pinot Noir crop grew even more dramatically than Napa Cabernet: After remaining almost flat at $85 million from 2005 to 2011, it doubled in 2012 to $160 million and has remained there.

Sonoma vineyard values now average $60,000 to $125,000 and have been relatively flat since 2006. “We’ve seen $150,000 for high-quality Pinot vineyards,” Correia added.

Other regions
Correia pegged Mendocino County vineyards at $20,000 to $100,000, the latter largely in Anderson Valley, where Napa and Sonoma wineries have been buying land. “We’ve seen a surge in prices in Anderson Valley,” the vineyard appraiser said.

Lake County values are $25,000 to $50,000, and District 7 (Monterey and San Benito counties) $25,000 to $45,000. “Pinot land is strong, but the vineyards have a bigger footprint than in the North Coast,” Correia said.

District 8 (San Luis Obispo County including Paso Robles, and Santa Barbara and Ventura counties) land is $37,000 to $85,000 per acre, a dramatic jump from a year ago. Vineyards in Paso Robles tend to be large, too.

District 11 (Lodi) vineyards are worth $25,000-$30,000 per acre, up from only $18,000-$22,000 in 2013. “Lodi is coming back. Kudos to the people promoting Lodi,” said Correia.

District 13 (Fresno and Madera) vineyards are priced at $18,000-$28,000 per acre, up significantly from $10,000-$12,000 as recently as 2012. This reflects the demand for land to grow almonds, walnuts and pistachios by both other farmers and institutional investors: Central Valley almond orchards have risen in value from $15,000-$20,000 in 2012 to $15,000-$32,000 in 2014. “Grape prices are going down, but land values are going up. People are going nuts,” he quipped.

Water, of course, is a huge factor in vineyard (and nut orchard) value. Having a guaranteed supply is paramount in pricing land.

Overall, California vineyard values continue their rise with little expansion in acreage likely to dampen prices—even if replacing vineyards with nut orchards in the Central Valley is one reason.

Correia’s data included his own estimates as well as those from the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers and grape and county reports. Values are approximate.

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