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Monday, December 9, 2013, 6:15 am

Wine: Amcor Flexibles doubles local screw cap production

Also: Pinot noir could top ’12 crop record

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    Jeff QuackenbushAmcor Flexibles is installing its second American Canyon production line for long-skirted Stelvin Plus aluminum screw caps, effectively doubling the production capacity for the bottle closure targeted at higher-end North Coast wines, according to plant General Manager Frederic Catteau.

    The new machine, which arrived last week, can produce 20 million to 25 million Stelvin Plus caps annually, effectively expanding total North Coast production capacity to 50 million, he said. The new equipment also has more capabilities for adding decorations to the cap skirt, which makes the closure appear to be a traditional capsule covering the end of the bottle.

    North Coast production is tailored more to orders from small-scale producers, which would be ordering at least 14,000 caps at a time, or enough for about 1,000 12-bottle cases. Typical downtime between jobs on the existing line is about two hours, but the new line is expected to cut that job-change time in half, according to Mr. Catteau.

    The company’s Montreal plant produces close to 1 billion Stelvin caps, variations of which are marketed for wines and spirits. Production for the wine industry has grown to half of Stelvin output in North America. Caps designed for 187-milliliter single-serving bottles have been growing quickly, accounting for 500 million units a year in the U.S., Mr. Catteau said.

    Amcor Flexibles currently has 33 employees in American Canyon. That isn’t expected to change much with the new equipment, he said.

    ***

    The 2013 winegrape crop in California is expected to weigh in at more than 4 million tons when the first official tally appears in early February, rivaling the record-sized 2012 crush. In the North Coast, the most ample varieties could be near 2012 record levels, even topping them in the case of pinot noir, according to Mike Needham, North Coast grape broker for Novato-based Turrentine Brokerage.

    “It’s the fastest-growing red variety in the [grape] market,” he told a gathering of professionals for the Moss Adams annual State of the Industry seminar at Napa Valley Marriott on Nov. 21. Sonoma County has been a major producer of high-end pinot noir in the state. The 2013 crop could top the 52,000 tons crushed in the county last year, Mr. Needham said.

    A number of growers have converted pinot noir vines from spur to cane pruning, leading to more exposed vine wood and more fruit, he said. Limits on tons per acre for the variety are still to be seen, but likely would be implemented if the variety were in oversupply, he added.

    Indeed, prices for the best Sonoma County pinot noir grapes were topping out around $4,500 a ton because of demand, but pricing for tonnage over contracted amounts or on the “spot market” softened later in the season more than for cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay because of “tank lock” — vintners ran out of room to put pinot, even if they wanted it, according to Mr. Needham.

    Demand for pinot noir brands retailing for $15–$20 a bottle have been moving the majority of the 1 million gallons bulk wine that was available, Steve Fredricks, president of Turrentine, told the group. That’s in spite of significant plantings to the variety in Monterey and Santa Barbara counties.

    “A lot of the companies we work with have a lot of room to grow with pinot noir,” he said.

    Napa County’s king crop, cabernet sauvignon, produced less than the nearly 71,000 tons of the 2012 crush, which was about 20,000 tons heavier than that of the cold, wet 2011 season, according to Mssrs. Needham and Fredricks. The $25–$35 a gallon average pricing for bulk cab last year moderated to around $20 a gallon at the top end closer to harvest this year.

    Chardonnay in Sonoma and Napa counties “did dodge a bullet” in 2013, as wet weather at key points in the season turned warmer and windy before disease and mildew set in, according to Mr. Needham. North Coast chardonnay is expected to weigh in close to 2012 record levels, which was nearly 81,000 tons in Sonoma County, he said.

    ***

    Jon Ruel (left) and Dave Whitmer

    Napa Valley Grapegrowers selected Napa County Agricultural Commissioner Dave Whitmer, who retires this month after 33 years in that role, as the first recipient of the Ed Weber Award.

    The 670-member trade group feted Mr. Whitmer on Dec. 3.

    “During his tenure, he built many bridges, keeping our community together and our industry strong,” said association President Jon Ruel, also head of Trefethen Family Vineyards. “In so doing he made himself part of the fabric and the history of the Napa Valley.”

    The award, in memory of longtime Napa County Farm Adviser Ed Weber, who died suddenly in 2007, honors a person or organization that bridges public and private sectors, providing superior service, groundbreaking research or exceptional advocacy for Napa Valley viticulture and wine.

    ***

    Patz & Hall in mid-January plans to move its tasting salon from a south Napa industrial park to a converted 8,000-square-foot vineyard estate home down the street from its production facility in the Eighth Street East industrial winery cluster south of Sonoma.

    Called The Sonoma House at Patz & Hall, the venue will bring the quarter-century-old wine producer’s hospitality functions closer to its roots in Sonoma County. Key grape suppliers also are in the county: Hyde, Hudson and Moses-Hall.

    The project on the 16-acre property at 21200 Eighth St. E. has been underway since August (sonomahouseblog.com). The county of Sonoma approved a use permit for a 5,100-square-foot tasting room plus a couple dozen events capped at 250 annual attendance.

    ***

    Longtime North Coast agricultural property appraiser Tony Correia as of Dec. 1 is going back out on his own, after leaving Corriea-Xavier, Inc., which he founded with Stanley Xavier in 1992 then returning as a consultant. Mr. Correia and his wife, Stephanie, have formed The Correia Company, providing transaction brokerage as well as support for wine-related litigation and tax issues such as valuation disputes, estate-planning and -gifting, purchase-price allocations and valuations based on AVA and partial interests.

    Send items for this column to jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or call 707-521-4256.

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