While folks like NASA / GISS whine on about “Hottest Ever” and “one of the 10 hottest”, the wine grapes tell a different story. Yes, I’m going to be whining about wine…
(Short form: Buy a stock now. Harvest down and poorer quality, likely to cause price rises this year.)
Friday, February 10, 2012, 12:20 pm
North Coast 2011 winegrape crop 11% lighter, nearly 7% lower value
Winery, grower cooperation during rainy harvest prevents higher crop loss, experts say
By Jeff Quackenbush, Business Journal Staff Reporter
NORTH COAST — The first official tally of the impact of the stormy 2011 winegrape season is in: North Coast vintners crushed 11.8 percent fewer tons last year than in 2010, and the value of the 2011 crop at nearly $848 million was 6.9 percent smaller than the year before, despite average per-ton prices rising 5 percent to 10 percent last year, according to preliminary state figures.
“The crop was down from last year, but it is probably not down as far as some predicted in November and December, said Glenn Proctor, partner of San Rafael-based wine and grape brokerage Ciatti Co. “As we went into January we felt it was not as bad, as growers started reporting crop size.”
OK first up is just the reduced tonnage. As wine orchards tend to be long duration things, this isn’t like sugar beets where acreage changes a lot from year to year. They also tend to be pruned to a specific size, so year to year the orchard tends to stay the same total size / acre.
These grape plants were NOT happy with the cold, nor the wet.
The 2011 California Grape Crush Report, an annual benchmark for grape sales contracts, chronicles three interwoven wine industry storylines for the year, according to Brian Clements of Novato-based Turrentine Brokerage.
“It tells the story of increasing (bottle) sales,” he said. “It tells the story of Mother Nature impacting crops. It tells the story of wineries and growers working together to get the crop in at lower-than-contracted sugar levels.”
A number of grape purchase contracts stipulate target levels of sugar in grape berries and other quality aspects for fruit that a winery will accept from a grower. Without irrigation or rain, cluster berries start raisining — lowering cluster weight — and sugar levels increase.
Fewer but heavier lower-sugar clusters have partly offset large reductions in yield because of the weather, Mr. Clements speculated.
This ‘sugar content’ is very important. First, because sugar production is proportional to ‘degree days’. That lower sugar directly says “Less Heat”. No heat, no sugar… (too much heat gives lots of sugar, but the acid level drops and you get insipid flavor in the wines).
It also matters in that lower sugar makes for great German Style Whites, but poorer Chablis… Nice “White Zin”, but tepid Cabernet Sauvignon. So buy prior year deep reds… and 2011/12 whites… however…
Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc tonnage hit hard
The biggest hit to crop size from the early-season rains, cool season and more rain at harvest was in Sonoma County and for that winegrowing region’s top variety, chardonnay, according to the state report. It was the county’s smallest chardonnay crop in seven years.
Total Sonoma County tonnage fell by nearly 26,000 tons, or 13.5 percent, to 166,000 tons from nearly 192,000 tons in 2010. Napa County tonnage shrank by 12.7 percent to 121,000 from nearly 138,000 a year before. Following harvest, industry crop-shortage estimates ranged from 20 percent to one-third.
Chardonnay tonnage in the county dropped 21 percent to 52,000. The variety was hit hard throughout the North Coast, off 22.2 percent in tonnage, with chardonnay off 23.1 percent in Napa County 23.7 percent in Mendocino County and by just more than one-third in Lake County.
Another major North Coast white grape variety hurt badly by the spring and fall rains was sauvignon blanc. The 30,500 tons crushed last year were the lowest in six years, down 20.4 percent from 2010 and off by 28 percent and 32 percent in Napa and Sonoma counties, respectively.
If you have a particular fondness for those whites, better stock up now on prior year production, as they will be more expensive when this vintage goes to bottle…
Has similar news, but looks to a wider geography. So while the first link had Zinfandel recovering from a prior year ‘sunburn’, in Lodi (near Stockton near Sacramento California – Central Valley and where a lot of ‘jug wine’ is made) had a hit to their Zin:
“Of the major varieties, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and Syrah all posted sharp declines from 2010. Only two major varieties had larger crops in 2011: Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio, which increased due to recent new plantings and healthy yields in the Central Valley. Pinot Noir was down in the Coastal areas but statewide both Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio had their largest crops ever in 2011. Basically, demand will exceed supply for the near future, keeping prices firm.”
-Steve Fredricks, President, Turrentine Brokerage
So two varieties that had a lot of new acreage had increases. Everything else is down…
“The crop of Zinfandel in the Lodi area was down 25% from 2010, caused largely by lower yields, and the continued shift towards red wine. This will keep the market active for 2012 grapes and bulk wine.”
-Erica Moyer, Partner/Broker, Turrentine Brokerage
A 1/4 drop is a “Big Deal”. Don’t expect to find a lot of cheap and good White Zin in a year or two.
“The Muscat varieties — used for the quickly growing Moscato category — increased only 7%, or the equivalent of only 380,000 cases. Moscato has been posting sales growth of well over 75%.
-Steve Fredricks, President, Turrentine Brokerage
“While the crop in the North Coast was down 11%, it could potentially have been much smaller if growers and wineries hadn’t cooperated to harvest grapes early in many cases.”
-Brian Clements, Vice President, Turrentine Brokerage
“Overall, Chardonnay, the largest variety, was down a substantial 15% statewide in 2011 compared to 2010, which is a decrease of 15 million gallons or over 6 million cases. Cabernet Sauvignon, the largest red variety, declined 14%, a decrease of 10 million gallons, or over 4 million cases.”
Note that “harvest early”. That was due to things cooling off sooner than expected. The grapes had to be harvested early, and at lower than expected sugar. That’s what happens when things get cold.
You can find this same grape production report info in many different reports. What it all adds up to is two things:
There was less sun, warmth, growing season.
Wines will be in shorter supply and at higher prices going forward.
I would also add that: The grapes are not lying, nor ‘adjusting their data’. They clearly state that “Hottest Ever” and even “Among the hottest 10” is just bunk. We did not have 1/3 improvements in production (the inverse of a 1/4 loss now) in 2010 vs 2009 or 2008. The grapes are saying that there is something a bit bogus in the “hottest” claims.
I do have to add that part of the weather issues were rain related. We had a lot of rain last year. So this year will be a good comparison for “cold and dry” vs “cold and wet”. But cold it will be…
I’ve not found a ‘wine grape production by year’ graph (but didn’t look too hard ;-) Partly as adjusting for decade scale variations in plantings and varieties would make it hard to use for any climate speculations. Partly because I think the present plunge is dramatic enough to make the point on its own.
FWIW, if you would like more about the different varietals, this link has a nice intro:
One final note: To the extent other crops also are sensitive to ‘degree days’, we could well see tonnages drop in other crops (and prices rise too). I’ve not gone looking for that data (yet…). Again, in part, due to the widely varying plantings possible for ‘row crops’. Orchards have decade scale stability, sweet corn not so much…
But in aggregate, the ‘degree day’ can not be denied…