Wineries scramble for tank, barrel space
More than half the 2012 North Coast winegrape crop is off the vine and most of the rest is expected to be arriving at wineries by early November.
With warm to hot days in August and September accelerating maturation of grapes, many North Coast growers and wineries were surprised to find the crops were much bigger than expected around the beginning of the season, according to Glenn Proctor, partner of San Rafael-based winegrape and wine brokerage Ciatti Co.
“Napa and Sonoma (counties) appear to be, compared with others statewide, up the most relative to 2011,” Mr. Proctor said. ”I wouldn’t be surprised if tonnage were 15 percent to 20 percent more than expected.”
In Sonoma County, harvest has passed the half-way point, and most of the rest will come off the vine by the end of this month, with a few vineyards remaining for picking in early November, according to Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission.
“Right now, it’s going at a rapid pace,” he said. “Now it’s about tank space and barrel capacity than weather.”
Crop-size estimates in Sonoma County are being revised upward, pointing to, perhaps, more than 200,000 tons being harvested for the first time since 2009, Mr. Frey noted. Statewide, the 2012 winegrape crop was estimated to be 10 percent larger than that of 2011, or 3.7 million tons.
As the inventory of North Coast bulk wine dwindled and early-season forecasts suggested an average or below-average crop size, prices for grapes were higher than 2011. As tonnage coming off the vine exceeded expectations and amounts wineries were under contract to purchase, a number of wineries have been interested in buying more fruit, but the prices offered for that overage has varied widely from a slight to a significant discount, according to Mr. Frey.
That a number of wineries have been willing to buy the excess tonnage is positive, according to Mr. Proctor.
“It is good for the industry because it takes some of the froth off the market,” he said. Until June of this year, the market for grapes was undergoing rapid inflation, and some wineries were concerned that they would not be able to raise bottle prices accordingly in a still struggling economy.
“Maybe, grape prices will stabilize and give the consumer time to get used to the higher bottle pricing,” Mr. Proctor said. Long term, the grape supply situation is constrained in California and, especially, the North Coast.
About 90 percent of the grapes in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley has been picked since harvest started in early September, and tonnage harvested is about 20 percent to 25 percent above the average year, according to Kristy Charles, co-owner of Foursight Wines and president of Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association.
Some Anderson Valley growers thinned their crops early in the season, so their harvested tonnage has been 10 percent to 15 percent above typical, according to Ms. Charles.
A few vineyards on Greenwood Ridge straddling the Anderson Valley and Mendocino Ridge viticultural areas still have zinfandel and syrah on the vine, but that is expected to be picked in the next by the end of the month.
“Because overall quality is high, in particular with Anderson Valley pinot noir, I haven’t heard reports of any fruit being refused at the winery,” Ms. Charles said. “I think most wineries have simply found a way to stretch their fermenter space and make room.”
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