California Wine Grape Tonnage Falls

Preliminary report pegs total harvest at 3.69 million tons; prices strong in coastal regions

by Andrew Adams
california grape crush report
Source: California Grape Crush Report (Preliminary 2015)
San Rafael, Calif.—California’s wine grape production in 2015 slipped 5% from the previous year 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 today. The drop in production and prices did not come as a surprise following a string of large harvests, years of drought and poor conditions for fruit set during spring 2015.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, which prepared the report, red wine grape production in 2015 dropped 5% from the previous year to 2,037,083 tons, and white grapes also slipped 5% to 1,66,159 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.

Coastal-inland disparity

While the interior regions of the state enjoyed average to slightly larger than normal yields, prices continued to fall for those grapes. The average price for all wine grape varieties was $675, which was 11% less than 2014. 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 last year at $539.

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

california grape crush report
Source: California Grape Crush Report (Preliminary 2015)
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, up 4.5%, and in Napa County it was $2,528, or 6% higher than last year.

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

Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa County, however, posted an average price of $6,224 per ton (up 7%); Sonoma County Cabernet hit $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 in the Central Coast and was up 4% to $2,621 per ton in Napa.

Effect on the industry

Steve Fredricks, president of Turrentine Brokerage in Novato, Calif., said the report essentially confirms what many in the industry already had predicted based on the poor conditions during set in 2015 and provides numbers proving just how short yields from the coastal regions of the state were this past year.

In Sonoma County, for example 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,” Fredricks said.

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.”

District 13, which includes the southern San Joaquin Valley counties of Madera and Fresno, accounted for 1.434 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.

John Ciatti, a partner with Ciatti Global Wine & Grape Brokerage in San Rafael, Calif., noted that despite Pinot Grigio tonnage increasing by 1.7% to 184,985 tons, the demand for the white wine grape cultivar still outweighs supply. “Consumer demand for Pinot Grigio continues to absorb all the volume produced here, along with substantial volumes coming from offshore,” he said.

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