Vine Notes: Prepare for next wave in wine supply

Beginning around the end of the Great Recession, a conversation emerged in the wine industry concerning the supply of winegrapes, both here in California and internationally.

The temporary pause to the growth in wine demand created by the recession masked the lack of vineyard planting activity that had essentially plateaued since the last period of oversupply in the early 2000s. With the percentage of nonbearing acres hovering at an estimated 2 percent to 4 percent, below replacement levels, and vineyards being removed in the California's Central Valley and throughout the European Union, wineries became increasingly concerned with long-term supply as demand again began to grow.

Then came harvest 2012. And then there was harvest 2013. After several lackluster years, the total grape crush in California set a new record, totaling 4.018 million tons of winegrapes in 2012. Harvest 2013 eclipsed that tremendous harvest by 5 percent, totaling 4.231 million tons, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's preliminary Grape Crush Report, released Feb. 10. [See the Business Journal report on the crush report.]

Overall, the 2013 North Coast harvest continued the stunning back-to-back turnaround from the weak 2011 harvest.

Growers of pinot noir in District 3 (Sonoma and Marin counties), for example, delivered 28,400 tons in 2011, while 2012 and 2013 clocked in at 54,100 and 52,800 tons, respectively. Similarly, Napa County cabernet sauvignon tonnage jumped from only 50,800 in 2011 to 71,500 in 2012 and 65,800 in 2013.Dealing with all the wine

With the 2013 grapes rolling in and tank space still filled with 2012 and in short supply, wineries were faced with the logistical question of what to do with all those grapes. Now, that harvest is behind us, the question has become, what to do with all that wine. Many well-managed North Coast wineries deftly handled the downturn and held cased good inventories lean throughout the recession.

As demand returned, spotty shortages were revealed and sourcing became a prominent issue, particularly with a tight bulk-wine market all but removing that fallback inventory-management tool. The large 2012 harvest was a relief to inventory-starved wineries, and most immediately made plans to move up release dates and stretch the vintage cycle from the normal 12 months to 15 months or more. Faced with the second large harvest in a row, those plans are now being revisited.

An added complication to the planning process is the status of the international wine supply. Although the increasingly strong direct-to-consumer market is somewhat insulated from the ups and downs in the EU and New World competitors, the challenging wholesale market is not.Allocations amid global supply changes

Now that wineries are again sitting on healthy inventory levels, it is important to understand the prevailing global conditions and how those might impact a winery's effort to allocate inventories to various channels. Rabobank's recently released Wine Quarterly report prepared by the bank's Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory Group summarized the outlook for international supply.Europe

Wine inventories in Europe have rebounded as both Italy and Spain revised 2012 production figures upward and experienced strong production in 2013, overall. Spain saw nearly 40 percent jump in production in 2013.

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