Wine Harvest Pegged Under 4 Million Tons

In California's Central Valley, many growers pulling vines in favor of nuts

by Andrew Adams
california wine grape harvest
The 2014 wine grape harvest is expected to total between 3.8 million and 3.9 million tons, according to Nat DiBuduo. Photo: Sonoma County Winegrowers

San Rafael, Calif.—As the last bins are delivered to wineries in California, the early projection is that 2014 yields in the nation’s largest wine grape-producing state will total 3.8 to 3.9 million tons.

That’s the word from Nat DiBuduo, president and CEO of the Fresno, Calif.-based Allied Grape Growers, which represents nearly 600 growers across all of the state’s grapegrowing regions. DiBuduo said the harvest in the North Coast has been just under average—and in some cases “significantly lower” than in 2013, while the San Joaquin Valley will likely produce a crop that will also be smaller than last year.


    After Wines & Vines published this report Oct. 16, Steve Fredricks, the president of Turrentine Brokerage contacted the magazine with additional comments and insights on the grape market. He said it’s true that many growers in the San Joaquin Valley couldn’t find a contract for their grapes but that’s because of several other reasons beside wineries importing bulk wine. “The 2012 and 2013 harvests were above normal yields meaning wineries already have big inventories and are not interested in stockpiling additional 2014 wines,” he said. Sales for wines priced less than $3 per bottle or other generic wines are also on the decline as consumers are opting for varietal wines. “The large portion of grapes that got low prices were varieties used for generic wine,” he said. “The imported bulk volume being used is the least of the reasons for the low prices.”
He said the Central Coast, which includes Monterey County and the Paso Robles AVA, is mixed with some vineyards producing average to above-average crops, while other sites came in lower.

Statewide, DiBuduo said, “The unknown is how many new vineyards came into production this year that may not be on the record.”

No contract, no luck for many growers
Yet DiBuduo is certain many vineyards in the San Joaquin Valley are going to be pulled because growers are struggling to find good prices or buyers. “It’s strictly economics,” he said. “This year you had the ‘withs’ and the ‘withouts.’”

Growers “with” grape contracts fared well, but those “without” struggled to find a buyer. Non-contracted grapes that did find buyers received prices as low as $100 to $250 per ton. DiBuduo said this affected “thousands and thousands” of tons—or 10% to 15% of the valley’s total production.

When these growers learn their neighbors are getting $18,000 per acre gross for pistachios, DiBuduo said they get tired of playing the wine game. The nut market does not appear anywhere near oversupply, and growers can make more money and use less water planting fewer acres of nuts. The only hindrance so far is the lack of nursery material for new orchards.

Add decreased demand for Moscato grapes and the flood of cheap, imported wine, and many growers are opting to pull their vines. “I’m really concerned we’re going to lose some of our better quality growers,” DiBuduo said, adding he estimates U.S. wineries, led by “all the big guys,” import the equivalent of 260,000 tons of grapes per year. “I think we’re getting slammed by imports,” he said.

The North Coast, however, represents a “shining star” of the industry, DiBuduo said. Growers in the region, which includes Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Solano and Marin counties, continue to enjoy good prices with contracts being renewed. DiBuduo was also happy to report for the first time in his 15-year tenure with Allied that he heard of growers receiving planting contracts.

He said in 2013 growers had to contend with many wineries in the North Coast rejecting grapes because of concerns over virus-infected vines and wineries not having enough tank capacity, but those issues weren’t a big problem this year.

Challenges from imports
In general, with the United States taking the top spot of global wine consumption, that means the industry is doing well but American wineries and growers have a target on their backs as the world’s other wine regions seek a greater slice of U.S. wine sales.

According to the latest report on the global wine market by Rabobank, the top exporter of wine to the United States remains Italy, which exported $1 billion (or 19.7 million of cases) of wine to the U.S. during the first six months of 2014.

New Zealand and Argentina enjoyed the largest gain in U.S. export volume, accounting for 22% and 8% increases, respectively. Portugal still only accounts for a small share of imports but saw a 16% increase that was also almost entirely in bottled wine.

Australia’s woes continue with that country seeing a 10% decrease in total U.S. export volume led by a 22% decrease in bulk exports, according to Rabobank’s analysis that drew on figures in the latest Gomberg-Fredrikson Report.

Overall, Rabobank predicts total global wine production to decrease 2% to 4% because of smaller harvests in almost every major wine-producing nation except for France and New Zealand.

Oregon harvest report released
Growers in Oregon are reporting an excellent 2014 vintage with a voluminous crop that is also of high quality. Dry and warm weather throughout the season and new vineyards should produce an all-time harvest record.

This past week Southern Oregon University Research Center released its 2013 vintage census report. Oregon growers produced 56,246 tons, which was 12% bigger than the large 2012 crop. The state’s wine grape harvest also grew by 10% in value to hit $128 million.

Grapes crushed by Oregon wineries totaled 52,588 tons, which is 2.4% more than in 2013, and produced 3.3 million cases of wine.

Pinot Noir is still the state’s leading crop, accounting for 58% of all tonnage produced and crushed. The average price per ton of Oregon Pinot Noir was $2,651, which was down slightly from the 2012 average of $2,738. Pinot Gris is the second most widely produced grape, and the 2013 harvest yielded 10,321 tons of the variety. Wineries on average paid $1,562 per ton for Pinot Gris.

The total number of planted vineyards in Oregon reached just below 24,000 acres, with 21,681 acres harvested in 2013. The Northern Willamette Valley is home to 14,224 acres of planted vineyards, or 66% of the state’s total acreage. Yields continue to be far lower in Oregon than California, with growers reporting an average of just 2.59 tons per acre in 2013.

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