North Coast vintners and growers said they brought in significantly less grape tonnage last year and grape pricing has been increasing, and that’s what is seen in the newly released first official look at the 2015 California winegrape harvest.
The North Coast winegrape harvest — including Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties as well as the portion of the region in western Solano — was estimated to be 418,011 tons last year, down by a quarter from 2014 and nearly 18 percent from the five-year average, according to figures released Feb. 10 by the National Agriculture Statistics Service (see data charts: bit.ly/1V4HGk8) and estimates by Novato-based Turrentine Brokerage.
With the lower tonnage but higher grape prices, the value of the 2015 North Coast crop was roughly $1.13 billion, down about 22 percent from 2014. Statewide, winegrape revenue dropped 15.7 percent to $2.52 billion because of a smaller coastal crop and 11.2 percent drop in average price, mostly for grapes bound for budget wines. California tonnage was 3.7 million, down 5.0 percent from 2014 and on par with the 3.7 million-ton 2009 crop.
“This is a time when for bottles over $10 [retail] the sales are increasing, and there is a lot of confidence,” said Brian Clements of Turrentine. “We didn’t need four big crops. We didn’t get that, but we didn’t need it to be down as much as it was.”
North Coast winegrape crops were in the 550,000- to 600,000-ton range in 2012–2014. The 2011 season, with cool weather and rain at harvest, cut the North Coast yield to less than 400,000 tons and left vintners scrambling for extra grapes and wine. Statewide, winegrape tonnage for 2011–2014 were 3.35 million, 3.89 million, 4.25 million and 4.02 million.
“It was not drought-related, because people were still able to irrigate,” said Steve Dorfman, partner and broker with San Rafael-based Ciatti Co. “It was more weather-related, because the weather during [crop] set was not as optimum as it could have been.”
“Set” is the viticultural term for when pollinated vine flowers shift to fruit production. Grape varieties respond differently to higher wind, cold, heat and moisture, leading to fewer than expected tons per acre.
Though winegrape tonnage was off in Napa and Sonoma counties each by 29 percent last year, a drop equivalent to 8.6 million cases of wine, average countywide pricing was up by 7.3 percent to $4,237 a ton in Napa and by 4.9 percent to $2,403 in Sonoma, according to the California Grape Crush Report. That was 14.1 percent higher than Napa’s five-year average and 8.2 percent higher for Sonoma’s. Mendocino County’s average inched up 1.0 percent to $1,494, still 6.5 percent above the five-year trend, and Lake County’s went up 4.7 percent to $1,589, 12.1 percent higher than the pace.
Winegrape tonnage totaled 181,130 in Sonoma, down 29.2 percent from 2014 and 20.6 percent below the five-year average; 123,320 in Napa, down 29.3 percent and off 20.7 percent from average; 57,292 in Mendocino County, down 7.7 percent and below average by 12.1 percent; and 38,433 in Lake County, virtually unchanged at 0.8 percent below 2014 and 1.3 percent higher than average.
‘PARADIGM SHIFT’ COMING FOR COASTAL BRANDS
The smaller 2015 harvest is causing a “paradigm shift” for brands retailing for $10-plus and built on excess fruit from California coastal appellations in the big crops of 2012–2014, according to Dorfman.