Grape Market Insights: Winegrape harvest set to 'go long' in 2013

Joe Montana once whispered in the ear of Jerry Rice those words of San Francisco 49ers legend: "Go long!" The next thing you know, we had won the Super Bowl. ("We" means Joe, Jerry and I, although their part was admittedly more important than mine.) Ma Nature seems to be following a similar playbook both this harvest and last in the North Coast.

Last year, Ma Nature succeeded in keeping everyone off-balance because the cluster counts were not especially large but the berries kept on sizing -- getting larger. So we ended up with a surprisingly large crop across all varieties. Big crops are often followed by smaller crops, but Ma Nature seems intent on "going long" in 2013 as well.

She has also added some wrinkles to keep the game interesting, sprinkling in some serious disease pressure and turning up the heat to bring lots of varieties to ripeness all at once.

With many tanks still full from the bounty of 2012, that has put the blitz on winemakers, who are desperately looking for open tank space and daylight in the schedule for grape deliveries. Going long on crop size is hard on the whole vineyard and winery team right now, but it will give brands the juice they need to make their growing sales goals.

Grape tonnage in excess of contract specifications are mostly selling at a discount to the contract price. This will give brands a little larger gross margin, which in turn, could help finance that extra sales and marketing push into the end zone.

Let’s review the field, variety by variety.Cabernet sauvignon

The market for bulk cabernet sauvignon has been strong all year for wine from Mendocino, Lake and Sonoma counties and more moderate for Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. Much Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon on the bulk market may have been priced too high to work in the hot retail range of $12--$20 per bottle. We have been selling excess tons from both Sonoma County at $2,200--$2,300 a ton; Napa Valley, $3,000--$3,500;  Mendocino and Lake counties, $1,600--$1,800.

The forecast for cabernet sauvignon wine in bulk is mostly sunny. Multiple buyers will be active but it is important to remember that demand continues to be price sensitive, that cabernet sauvignon in bulk often does not sell until the spring following the next harvest and that Cabernet Sauvignon in bulk usually requires time in barrels before it is sold.Chardonnay

Supply is not large, but demand for last year’s chardonnay wine in bulk has been relatively slow all year.

The 2013 crop is above average in most areas. Excess tonnage is selling now at around $2,000--$2,200 a ton for Napa Carneros and $650--$1,200 per ton in Sonoma County, depending on location and buyer.

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