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Monday, August 19, 2013, 6:15 am

Grape Market Insights: 2013 winegrape season portends a royal crush

Major varietals appear above-average in size

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    On the 22nd of July, 2013, at 4:24 post meridian, George Alexander Louis, also known as, His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge, was born at Saint Mary’s Hospital in London.

    George is a fairly common English name. There has been six British kings named George, and St. George, a fourth-century Christian martyr, is the patron saint of England. His cross adorns the national flag.

    The name Louis could be in homage to Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Duke of Edinburgh’s uncle and the last British Viceroy of India before independence in 1947. The name Alexander, of course, is in reverence to my son, His Royal Highness Prince Christian of Windsor, California whose middle name is Alexander. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge really didn’t have to do that, but it is a nice touch.

    You may wonder how I am going to segue from the great royals to the grape rows. Well, as you may know, the name George means “earth-worker” or “farmer.” I know of many Georges or Georginas who has been working the royal rears off to keep both Mother Nature and buyers expectations going in the right direction. In general, we are around a fortnight ahead of last year’s grape maturity.

    Crop estimates are all over the realm, with most leaning towards “average” to “above average” crop size throughout the North Coast. That is a bit surprising, due to Mummy Nature going sixes and sevens with the growing season. (For those not light with the lingo from across the pond, that means “in disarray.”)

    Here is the latest dickey bird (“word”) from our broker-knights roaming the countryside:

    Even after a record Napa County crop of 71,000 tons and a Sonoma County record 47,000 tons in 2012, cabernet sauvignon continues to be King of North Coast Reds. Available grape inventories are low, and prices remain strong. Presently, we have a sundry of buyers actively looking for King Cab. Most Georges are reporting an average cabernet crop.

    As the accompanying graph illustrates, bulk-wine inventories of Napa County cabernet sauvignon have dramatically increased from 30,000 gallons in 2011 to just under 600,000 in 2013.

    Currently, bulk cabernet sauvignon is selling but at a slower pace. Prices are a bit lower than at this time last year.

    Queen Chardonnay has pronounced that her impending crop is above average. However, with the late rains, growers have worked extra hard opening up grape canopies and staying on top of their spray programs, which has cost them lots of bees and honey.

    Spot-market pricing is about the same as last year, which has gobsmacked many after the hefty 2012 Sonoma County chardonnay harvest of 81,000 tons.

    Duke Pinot Noir said the grape market remains strong even after the 2012 record crop of 52,000 tons in Sonoma County and in spite of increased bulk wine inventory.

    Available spot-market tonnage remains low and prices high. Most growers and wineries agree the crop has the potential to be above average with spiffing quality. (In other words, “excellent.”)

    In the last few weeks we have had more interest in Baronet Merlot as a red blender, especially from Lake and Mendocino counties. Only a small percentage of available North Coast merlot has been sold for use in merlot varietal wines.

    Merlot spot-market grape pricing is about equal with that of last year. The preharvest estimate is the crop is around average.

    By royal decree, we — those of us who care — celebrate the birth of His Royal Highness and hope he sees no Barney Rubble in his life.

    At the same time, we rejoice in the forthcoming harvest. We do this for many reasons: It is the fruit of our labor. We are all huge chancer’s at heart. The growing season has been off one’s onion, but we all have the impression that this year’s quality is going to be the dog’s bollocks. (“Crazy” and “the best,” respectively, in the vernacular of the Isles.)

    So as the sparkling-wine harvest is under way in the North Coast, let’s pop open a bottle of Champagne lift a glass and pray that by the end of harvest we are not effing and blinding Mum Nature. (Both are euphemisms for cursing.)

    Godspeed to the coming royal crush! Long live the king! Pass the Champagne!

    •••

    Brian Clements is partner and vice president of Novato-based Turrentine Brokerage (turrentinebrokerage.com), a nearly 40-year-old business-to-business marketer of winegrapes and wine in bulk and bottles.

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    Comments

    1 Comment

    1. August 19, 2013, 9:52 am

      by Al Martinho

      I understand the attempt at cleverness and wit, but this is possibly the WORST article I’ve read in a long time. My opinion…as a grape grower.


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