California North Coast wine grape crop $1.7B, down 15%
The value of the 2019 North Coast wine grape crop fell 15.3% to nearly $1.7 billion, as the harvest across the region weighed in almost 17% lighter than the record 2018 crop but North Coast prices inched up just 1.5%, according to the annual grape crush report released Monday.
North Coast tonnage brought into wineries last fall totaled almost 491,000 tons, making it the sixth largest for the region but on par with the five-year average, according to preliminary figures from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. The annual report is a benchmark for grape purchase contracts.
Sonoma County’s crop last year came in at 223,244 tons, down 19.1% but in line with its five-year average. Napa County’s tonnage amounted to 153,804 tons, off by 16.7% from 2018 but 1.4% above average. Tonnage crushed in Mendocino County was down 18.0%, to 67,210, and Lake County’s haul was about the same as in 2018, at 46,644. The North Coast appellation also includes Green and Suisun valleys of west Solano County, but those figures aren’t tracked separately in the crush report.
The North Coast’s top grape by tonnage, cabernet sauvignon at 155,303 tons, was down 14.1% from 2018 but up 7.5% from the average. Chardonnay came in at 117,795 tons, down 20.0% from 2018 and off by 3.6% from the average. The region’s pinot noir crop was 3.9% above average at almost 65,000 tons, but down 19.2% from 2018.
Napa County’s weighted average price was $5,713 per ton, up 3.4% thanks to a 1.6% bump for its king grape, cabernet sauvignon. It crossed $8,000 a ton ($8,009) for the first time.
However, brokers of excess grapes and wine said pricing increases in the report say more about the prevalence of multiyear contracts for than the direction of demand to put more wine in bottles, which they said been easing over the past year.
“During this part of the market when it’s oversupplied it’s very hard to get an idea what the actual price is,” said Brian Clements, partner of Novato-based Turrentine Brokerage. “The actual price for nonsubappellated Napa Valley floor cab is nowhere near $8,000 a ton.”
Glenn Proctor, partner of San Rafael-based grape and wine brokerage Ciatti Company said wine available for purchase in bulk from wineries is selling at prices less than half of where they were two or three years ago. The first months of this year have brought back more activity from buyers of excess wine than in a number of months, he said.
Clements said his firm has seen pricing for bulk Napa Valley cab not sourced from star appellations garnering moderate interest at $18-$25 a gallon. At the top end of that range, it translates into $3,975 a ton.
Turrentine figures the Napa County average for spot-market cab — 2020 crop tonnage not under contract — is about $2,387 a ton for truckload quantities (over 22 tons) of fruit not from premier growing regions in the valley. That’s down from spot-market pricing for Napa cab of $4,766 a year before as vintners were starting to scale back their purchases of excess fruit, Clements said.
Some unsold Napa cab grapes were going for around $1,000 a ton at harvest, he said.