California North Coast wine grape crop value up 11% in 2022
A continued surge in Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon grape pricing, plus renewed demand for higher-quality sauvignon blanc fruit, helped lift the value of the North Coast wine grape crop last year 11.8%, according to a federal report released Friday.
Grower revenue for Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties in 2022 reached $1.39 billion, the sixth-largest tally for the region on record, per Business Journal analysis of the National Agricultural Statistical Service’s California Grape Crush Report, which is used as a benchmark for purchase contracts.
North Coast crop tonnage was up 3.3% from 2021, to 421,700 tons, but average pricing jumped 12.2%, to nearly $3,300 a ton.
Here’s the breakdown of 2022 tonnage by North Coast county:
- Sonoma: 187,489 tons, down 9.3% from 2021, down 10.6% from the five-year average.
- Napa: 127,247 tons, up 5.4%, down 8.1% from average.
- Mendocino: 61,479 tons, up 30.5%, down 1.9% from average.
- Lake: 45,509 tons, up 35.0%, up 7.1% from the average.
For California as a whole, the size of the crop turned out to be smaller than many were expecting. Forecasts were anticipating 3.5 million to 3.6 million tons, which would have been slightly under the reported 2021 tonnage of 3.63 million.
“Most of us thought there would be more grapes because of a lack of (buyer) activity,” said Glenn Proctor, partner of San Rafael-based grape and wine brokerage Ciatti Co. He’s concerned that the quieter market may portend that wineries in the state overall didn’t need more grapes to match sales of finished wine.
The average price of Napa County cabernet sauvignon hit a new record last year of $8,947 a ton, that’s up 11.6% and $927 a ton from the previous year’s record $8,020, according to the report, which is used as a benchmark for grape purchase contracts.
“That means a lot of people got paid more than the district average,” said Christian Klier, North Coast grape broker for Novato-based Turrentine Brokerage.
Turrentine Vice President Brian Clements said vintners are still eagerly shopping for Napa cab.
“Unless we have a large crop, the price increases will continue,” Clements said. “That is going to be felt going forward. The reason that price is being sustained is that there are a lot of contracts with Napa district (average) plus 10% or 20%.”
Napa County’s 2022 cab price was nearly 15% higher than the five-year average, according to the crush report.
The North Coast got a 13,700-ton (10.5%) boost in cab tonnage last year, to 145,600, equivalent to nearly 950,000 additional 9-liter cases of wine.
But the new tons came largely from Lake and Mendocino counties, according to the report. Lake cab tonnage jumped 32.5% to 21,200 tons, and Mendocino cab 49% to 13,800 tons, about matching the levels of the mammoth 2018 crop.
Those Lake and Mendocino tonnage gains came despite of double blows of punishing early-season frost and a prolonged extreme heat wave just before harvest, Klier noted.
“I attribute (the higher tonnage) to new vineyards coming online in Lake and Mendocino,” Klier said.
He estimates that about 500 new acres of vines came to commercial production maturity in Lake County, and more than that in Mendocino County. Those new acres were planted three to four years ago, before the recent prolonged drought. So little new mature acreage is expected to start feeding the market, Klier said.
Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties are decidedly lower-priced markets for high-quality cab grapes.
The Sonoma County average price for cab, largely from Sonoma, Alexander and Dry Creek valleys, was $2,853 a ton, up 3% from 2021 and 2% above average. In Mendocino and Lake counties, the average prices were $2,015 and $2,232 a ton, respectively, up 1.4% and 5.4%, respectively, from a year before, but little changed from the average.
The resurgence in popularity of sauvignon blanc in the past few years was rewarded by nature with a bigger crop last year and a boost in pricing from wineries eager for the white grape.
North Coast sauvignon blanc tonnage was up 25% last year, to 41,500, still 5.7% below the five-year average, the crush report said. Lake County led with a 71% jump in tonnage. The 15,400-ton haul in Lake County, equivalent of 440,000 more cases of wine, was nearly back to the level of 2019.
Part of that was a shift in vintner demand back to the Lake and Mendocino counties for the white grape for more than just higher-quality fruit for blending with fruit from lower-cost regions of interior California, Klier said.
Pricing for sauvignon blanc was up last year 5.5% in Mendocino County ($1,485) and 6.5% in Lake County ($1,317), but grape pricing jumps were even higher for Sonoma and Napa counties, up 9.5% ($1,913) and 14.1% ($2,925), respectively.
The price of sauvignon blanc in Napa and Sonoma counties and the shift of its acreage there to much high-priced cab, has prompted some vintners to shift their varietal labels to the North Coast appellation to source from Lake and Mendocino counties, Klier said.
“Ten or 15 years ago, the North Coast brand was hot,” Klier said. “Here we go again. It’s all good for the growers.”
The western Solano County winegrowing regions of Suisun and Green valleys also are part of the North Coast appellation and supply higher-priced wines.
But tonnage and pricing figures for western Solano aren’t broken out in the crush report from those for grapes grown at the eastern edge of the county for lower-priced wines. Vintners and growers in west Solano are seeking California agricultural approval to shift tallies for the bulk of those east county grapes to the neighboring Clarksburg appellation.
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 email@example.com or 707-521-4256.