It’s kind of a strange time to be in the California winegrape business right now. Shortages of grapes have made the recent past great for growers. At last year’s Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, the president and CEO of the grower cooperative Allied Grape Growers, Nat DiBuduo, said growers actually feel wanted. “I’ve never seen this much interest from wineries,” said DiBuduo, who annually leads off the “State of the Industry” presentation. “It’s very unusual to have buyers still looking for grapes in late January and early February. They want to know if you have grapes, and if they can get them.”
On the other hand, the economy continues to struggle. Will the economy improve significantly in 2013 or continue to struggle? Will consumers buy more “value wines” or will they choose to trade up? Will the hot selling varietals stay hot or be overrun by something else? These are just some of the issues the 2013 Unified Symposium program development committee was wrestling with for the Jan. 29-31 event at the Sacramento Convention Center.
The largest event of its kind in the Western hemisphere, the symposium also hosts a trade show with more than 650 suppliers displaying their products and services to the more than 12,400 people who attend annually. The program committee has established a theme for each daily general session, with the afternoon breakout sessions expanding on those themes. Here’s a brief look at each day.
Tuesday, Jan. 29, will examine how the global wine business affects U.S. growers and wineries, including a focus on fluctuating currency values, grape/bulk sourcing options, export opportunities, and tariffs and duties. The general session is: “How the Global Wine Market Affects U.S. Production.” U.S. growers and wineries are directly or indirectly impacted by the global wine market. Bulk wine movements ebb and flow based upon changes in currency valuations, relative costs of production, transportation costs, and supply and consumer demand. U.S. producers are accustomed to competition from branded imports, but numerous U.S. brands also source bulk wine internationally to meet cost-of-goods targets or to satisfy consumer demand for popular wine styles or varietal grapes in short supply. These trends affect U.S. grape growers and wineries, and this session will help you understand the market forces that will likely affect your business.
The afternoon breakout session for growers is “Mechanization Alternatives in the Vineyard.” Economic conditions and heightened immigration enforcement have resulted in higher labor costs and, for many vineyards, a real labor shortage during critical periods of the vineyard operation. Today’s shortage of labor may be a long-term reality. This session will examine the practical aspects of mechanizing cultural practices in the vineyard. Speakers will share their experiences and knowledge of mechanizing vineyard practices and making the most efficient use of labor.
Wednesday, Jan. 30, the “State of the Industry” will look at U.S. production and sales trends. This session will also provide an overall economic perspective of the wine industry and the economy at large, vineyard acreage/crush numbers, a broker overview on the bulk wine markets, wine inventories, and international bulk wine supplies. The morning general session will provide a comprehensive look at every aspect of the wine industry, from what’s being planted to what’s selling.
The afternoon breakout session for growers is “Redevelopment and Replanting in the Current Environment.” Older vineyards are becoming tired, the post-phylloxera replantings are turning 25 years old, disease and improper rootstocks have hurt production, and the trellis systems need modification. Determining when, what, and how to replant is critical. A panel will discuss various aspects of replanting and what critical considerations should be a part of the planning process.
Thursday, Jan. 31, will focus on leading consumer trends and issues affecting wineries and growers, including building brands and how consumers respond to change. The morning general session will zero in on how it’s a turbulent time in the wine market with greater competition than ever. Grape prices have increased as wine supplies have depleted. Margins are squeezed, resulting in price increases or sourcing wines from lower cost regions to supply brands. Increased varietal experimentation and diversity in consumer preferences are new drivers.
The afternoon features a session for both growers and winemakers that includes tasting: “Evaluating Cabernet Sauvignon Across Multiple Regions.” Cabernet Sauvignon is among the most widely planted red grape varietals in the U.S. Subsequently, it is grown under a wide range of conditions and in varied regions. The effect of region and growing conditions on wine style is a very important aspect of variability for Cabernet Sauvignon. This joint viticulture and enology session explores how some of our country’s most experienced and influential producers deal with the many challenges.
For more information on the event, go to www.unifiedsymposium.org.