Grape Market Insights: Mother Nature, we forgive you for '11; now let it rain

Brokers, growers, grape buyers, winery financial execs and marketing wizards are all complaining about Mother Nature because she was stingy this last harvest.

According to the newly released preliminary California Grape Crush Report, the biggest varieties -- chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, were down in almost all major North Coast growing areas. (See table). The fastest-growing varietal, pinot noir, is also down. The numbers tell the sorry story.

Mother Nature, indeed, was stingy at harvest. But really in the long term, that is the best thing for the wine business.

Excess supply hurts everyone, dragging down retail prices and grape prices. Short supply is also painful, but it is essential for any pricing power in the retail marketplace. Like the sap that rises in the vine in the spring, balanced or short inventories allow margins to stabilize and eventually rise, bringing life to a North Coast wine business that has suffered from about ten years of excess supply.

The economy is still fragile, of course. The Euro Zone dominos still look like they could fall, starting with Greece and continuing with Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and even France. But at least the grape and wine supply in the North Coast of California is back in line with demand and wineries need to buy grapes once again. I've even got buyers willing to do planting contracts. Now all that we need is some decent rain.

Please, Ma Nature, we'll forgive you for 2011. But now, let it rain!Changes in North Coast winegrape tonnage 2010--11Variety% chg.Tonnage changeEquivalent gallonsChardonnayNapa-23%-6,300-1,000,000Sonoma-20%-13,000-2,200,000Mendocino-24%-5,700-970,000Cabernet sauvignonNapa-9%-5,082-810,000Sonoma-12%-4,637-740,000Mendocino3%28846,000Pinot noirNapa-19%-1,390-222,000Sonoma-5%-1,440-230,000Mendocino0%2300

Source: California Grape Crush Report

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