Solano County winemakers’ pitch for new grape pricing advances
For just over three years wine grape growers and vintners in a portion of Solano County have been petitioning the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) with a request: Move a boundary line on a map and, in doing so, fix a problem that was costing them profit from the sale of wine grapes.
They continue to wait, with what Roger King, a director of the Suisun Valley Vintners and Growers Association and its former president, describes as “proactive patience.” Now the state is suggesting they may get their answer next summer.
King, who filed the petition on behalf of the association of 40 wineries east of the Napa Valley, said that this is the first time ever a group other than the legislature has initiated an amendment to the state’s Grape Price District boundaries. These districts divide the state into wine growing areas and play a key role in how much wine grape growers are paid.
The request to move the boundary line between districts 5 and 17 involves “basic equity,” said King.
Solano County’s pricing District 5 is the only one in the state that includes two very different growing regions — the northwest corner of Solano County and Ryer Island at the far eastern edge.
Their argument to the state is that Ryer Island, in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, has more in common in its grape growing conditions with the adjoining District 17, which is comprised of portions of Yolo and Sacramento counties west of Interstate 5 and south of Interstate 80. But northwestern Solano conditions are more like those found in adjoining Napa County.
“We are trying to correct the only serious anomaly” in the state’s grape pricing districts. King said the petition seeks to remedy the single case “of California coastal wine grape pricing being averaged with interior wine grape pricing within the same grape pricing district.”
King said the cause of the problem is that prices paid for commodity grapes grown on Ryer Island and other delta vineyards are considerably lower than those realized for the premium grapes grown in northwestern Solano County.
The association’s petition filed in 2019 cited a previous best estimate that 35% of District 5 grape tonnage comes from the Ryer Island area. More recent tabulations based on the 2020 crush report show the island’s annual grape harvest actually accounts for 42% of the District 5 total tonnage, which substantially reduces the published average price for District 5 grapes.