Winegrape harvest in California vineyards has nearly ended, and growers report a much lighter crop this year, according to the California Farm Bureau.
They’re also seeing high quality — small, tight berries they hope will impart especially good flavor and color to finished wines — and they’re seeing strong demand.
Allied Grape Growers, which represents about 500 farmers in the state’s main winegrape regions, said the strong demand has fueled an increase in grape prices. In most areas of the state, prices rose 50 percent to 100 percent per ton, according to Jeff Bittner, Allied Grape Growers vice president for operations.
“That sounds fantastic, but you have to look at the revenue equation –price times yield. When the yield is off, revenue is off. Input costs increased –the state minimum wage went up again, fuel and fertilizer costs have skyrocketed, water costs have jumped… which doesn’t leave much profit,” he said.
Joe Valente, who manages vineyard operations for Kautz Vineyard in Lodi, said prices paid by wineries are up. For example, if Cabernet grapes were selling a few years ago for $200 a ton, today those grapes may be worth $400 a ton.
“Across the board, growers in the Lodi region are probably seeing per-ton prices up $50 to $100 a ton,” he said. “But our production costs are much higher. Fertilizer, fuel and sulfur — they’re all up.”
The smaller crop means virtually all winegrapes in the state have been sold. That is in contrast to the record production in 2005 that saw a significant amount of fruit unsold and left in the vineyard.
Bittner said Allied did see some challenges in the market this year. Although not all winegrapes were left behind, some were placed at prices not profitable for growers.
Tomorrow: A harvest report from New Zealand.