Napa Grape Prices Up 11.5%

California crushed 4 million tons of wine grapes in 2017, according to Grape Crush Report

by Kate Lavin, Jim Gordon, Rebecca Arnn and Andrew Adams
wine California grape crush report

San Rafael, Calif.—Prices for red wine grapes from California rose 5.1% in 2017, compared to 2016, while white wine varieties dropped 3.6% in price, according to the preliminary California Grape Crush Report released today by the California Department of Food and Agriculture in cooperation with the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Total wine grape yields narrowly squeaked past the 4 million-ton mark, a decrease of 24,435.5 tons, or 0.6%.

The numbers were in line with what winegrower Andy Beckstoffer expected. He told Wines & Vines, “We were a little bit under what we expected (in 2017), and we expected to be about the same as 2016.”

“It’s been 20-some years since we did the Phylloxera replant here in Napa, and so there are a lot of vineyards that are being replanted and pulled out,” said Beckstoffer, who grows grapes in Lake, Mendocino and Napa counties. “Mendocino County will probably be down more than many of the others.

Indeed, yields in Mendocino County were down 9.6%, largely a result of low yields among white varieties. Chardonnay yields were down nearly 7,000 tons, or 22% in District 1 (see district map below), and Sauvignon Blanc was down 552 tons (13.5%).

“At first glance, it looks a lot like last year,” Glenn Proctor, a partner with wine and grape brokers The Ciatti Co., said of statewide results. “It’s virtually the same tons, but from a statewide basis, it’s interesting that Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio and Cabernet all had their largest statewide harvest ever. Those are the varieties you’ve seen put in the ground in the past four to five years, so that makes some sense.”

Prior to the report's release, there was some speculation that Cabernet Sauvigon would overtake Chardonnay as the most grown variety in the state, but for the time being Chardonnay has held on to its top spot. "We had bets internally on whether Cab was going to produce more than Chardonnay," Proctor said. "It’s basically 600,000 tons rounded up, so it’s pretty close."

wine California grape crush report
The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service calculates price by grape pricing district (map below).

North Coast prices
Grapegrowers in Napa County (District 4) saw the largest increase in average price, which grew 11.5% to reach $5,175 per ton. Napa Cabernet Sauvignon shot up to an average $7,421 per ton, an increase of 9% over 2016, while Cabernet Franc commanded $7,969, up 10%.

"The pricing continues to go up in line with what we’ve seen the past few years in terms of demand," Proctor said. "It’s a good thing for growers because their costs are up, the labor is going up. Can you continue to take price up to consumers on a per-bottle basis? So that is going to be interesting if that continues. We have seen at least some reports here that premium sales continue to grow, but they’re growing at a decelerating rate."

The second-highest priced area was District 3, consisting of Sonoma and Marin counties, where grapes sold for an average price of $2,800, up 8% from 2016. Pinot Noir was the highest priced major variety at $3,904, but a few varieties planted sparsely and primarily used as blenders drew higher prices.

Mendocino County Pinot Noir was almost as valuable as the same varietal in District 3, garnering $3,165 per ton. Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendocino drew $2,209, the fourth-highest price by district after Napa, Sonoma and Lake County, where it hit $2,352.

Central Coast pricing

California Grape Crush Report District map
The California Grape Crush Report is based on 17 districts, defined largely—but not entirely—by county lines.

In the South/Central Coast counties of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura (District 8), Pinot Noir was the highest priced major variety at $2,975, but Cabernet Franc was not far behind at $2,862 per ton.

Growers in District 7 (Monterey and San Benito counties) earned an average of $1,359 per ton for Chardonnay and $1,984 for Pinot Noir. A handful of unusual red varieties such as Freisa, Graciano and Sagrantimo from the area commanded $2,500 per ton.

Chardonnay claimed its highest price in Napa at $2,738, followed by Sonoma-Marin ($2,317). Surprisingly, Chardonnay from District 16 (Orange, Riverside, San Diego, and Imperial counties) fetched a higher average price per ton than the same varietal from San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

In Lodi (District 11), Chardonnay averaged $552 per ton, while Sauvignon Blanc fetched $558. Relatively obscure varieties including Verdejo, Picpoul Blanc and Marsanne, however, were all worth $1,200 or more. It was much the same for Lodi red varieties, as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot brought commodity prices of $700 and $552, while Zinfandel saw $650. Mourvedre, Cinsaut and Primitivo all commanded more than $1,000 per ton.

Big money for small yields
The price of Portuguese variety Tinta Madeira jumped nearly $572 (80%) statewide, but the volume crushed in 2017 was down 40%. Prices for the red wine variety Trousseau increased $1,700 per ton, but its volume also was down 40%.

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