California grape report doesn’t capture Solano County’s premium wine success
The latest state wine grape crop report is another sore point for growers and vintners in the two premium regions on the western side of Solano County. It’s part of the North Coast appellation with Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties, but Solano average pricing trails significantly behind.
Solano County is categorized as district 5 in the annual California Grape Crush Report, a statewide benchmark for grape contract pricing and crop valuations. Last year, 23,945 tons of district 5 grapes were crushed in California, down 3.9% from 2021 but up 3.5% from the district five-year average.
The district pricing last year was $1,124 a ton, up 6.4% from 2021. By comparison, other North Coast averages last year were $6,763 a ton in Napa, $2,849 in Sonoma, $1,836 in Lake and $1,788 in Mendocino.
Question is, how much of the Solano tonnage and pricing is reflective of the county’s western or eastern vineyards.
Solano County average pricing, weighted according to tonnage, is more in line with district 17 to the east (southern Yolo County, $650 a ton) or district 9 to the north ($768 a ton, the balance of Yolo plus other northern interior California counties). That’s because large, high-yielding vineyards on the eastern edge of the county, largely supply lower-priced mass-market brands.
As the Business Journal reported in December, this price disparity is part of a 4.5-year effort by local growers and vintners to petitioning Sacramento to change the crush district boundaries, moving the large eastern vineyards into district 17 to better reflect pricing there. That effort is hoped to be resolved in a year or two.
For example, one of the notable grapes grown in the Solano County Green Valley and Suisun Vallley appellations on the west border with Napa County is zinfandel. The 364 tons crushed in the county had an average price of $3,116 a ton, more in line with Sonoma and Napa pricing ($3,274 and $4,542) and above those for Mendocino and Lake (roughly $1,750 a ton each). District 17 zinfandel averaged $312 a ton.
Demand and pricing is growing for grapes from the Solano County Green Valley and Suisun Vallley appellations on the west border with Napa County.
“All varieties are strong for Suisun Valley now. 2022 is one of the strongest markets I can remember,” said grower and vintner Ron Lanza. His family’s Wooden Valley Winery crushes about 500 tons of estate fruit annually, but the grape business is one of the appellation’s largest growers, harvesting 2,500–3,000 tons a year for other wineries.
“If you had grapes, they were sold at a pretty good price — not at a fire sale, or as we call it, a roadside price,” Lanza said. The winery uses all the sauvignon blanc grown, but it is internally priced at $1,600 a ton. That would be above Lake and Mendocino’s $1,317 and $1,485 but below Sonoma and Napa’s $1,913 and $2,925.
His family sells half the grapes picked to East Coast buyers, split between a North Carolina winery and home winemakers. The other half is sold to California wineries.
This is a similar track to where Lake County was over a decade ago, when demand for local winegrapes was slackened and growers sold boxes of chilled grapes to wineries the East Coast and other states. But now Lake County has become a feeder market for prized cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc grapes for Napa and Sonoma wineries.
That’s something Lanza hopes is a harbinger of West Solano’s future. The arrival of Caymus Vineyards with a Suisun Valley tasting room and brand plus a Fairfield winery suggests to him that Solano’s time to shine in the wine world is coming soon.
Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before coming to the Business Journal in 1999, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-4256.