North Coast 2011 winegrape crop 11% lighter, nearly 7% lower value

NORTH COAST -- The first official tally of the impact of the stormy 2011 winegrape season is in: North Coast vintners crushed 11.8 percent fewer tons last year than in 2010, and the value of the 2011 crop at nearly $848 million was 6.9 percent smaller than the year before, despite average per-ton prices rising 5 percent to 10 percent last year, according to preliminary state figures released today.

"The crop was down from last year, but it is probably not down as far as some predicted in November and December, said Glenn Proctor, partner of San Rafael-based wine and grape brokerage Ciatti Co. "As we went into January we felt it was not as bad, as growers started reporting crop size."

The 2011 California Grape Crush Report, an annual benchmark for grape sales contracts, chronicles three interwoven wine industry storylines for the year, according to Brian Clements of Novato-based Turrentine Brokerage.

"It tells the story of increasing (bottle) sales," he said. "It tells the story of Mother Nature impacting crops. It tells the story of wineries and growers working together to get the crop in at lower-than-contracted sugar levels."

A number of grape purchase contracts stipulate target levels of sugar in grape berries and other quality aspects for fruit that a winery will accept from a grower. Without irrigation or rain, cluster berries start raisining -- lowering cluster weight -- and sugar levels increase.

Fewer but heavier lower-sugar clusters have partly offset large reductions in yield because of the weather, Mr. Clements speculated.2011 crop drop equal to 3.5 million North Coast cases, 17 million statewide

North Coast tonnage fell to 378,000 tons last year from nearly 429,000 in 2010. That 50,600-ton decrease would be like removing from store shelves, restaurants and tasting rooms almost 3.5 million 9-liter cases of wine, based on the industry rules of thumb of 165 gallons of wine per ton and 2.4 gallons per case.

"Most wineries have worked through their inventories by discounting and bulk sales (of wine)," Mr. Clements said. "Now there's demand for bulk wine and grapes."

Winegrape tonnage statewide last year decreased 6.9 percent to 3.34 milli0n tons from the 2010 crop, making the 2011 crop the state's fourth-largest behind those of 2010, 2009 and 2005. The 246,000-ton decrease is equivalent to nearly 17 million cases of wine coming off the market. The value of the 2011 California winegrape crop slipped 7.0 percent to $1.63 billion from 2010, although the statewide average price rose 11.1 percent to $634.

"Generally across the state, we saw supply down and prices up," Mr. Proctor said.Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc tonnage hit hard

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