California Winegrape Industry Soaring

California Winegrape Industry Soaring

The California winegrape industry is as strong as it has been in many years, and growers are enjoying strong prices across the board, says an industry leader. Nat DiBuduo, speaking at the annual meeting of the grower cooperative, Allied Grape Growers, could hardly contain his enthusiasm. “What a difference a year makes,” DiBuduo crowed during a luncheon at the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country Hotel in Santa Rosa. “We can not only see the light at the end of the tunnel, but in parts of California, we are out of the tunnel.”

The industry’s downturn in demand and prices due to an oversupply of grapes in the early 2000s has been balanced out by pulling excess vineyard acreage and bolstering sales. “We appear to be heading in the right direction for the California wine industry for both the vintners and the growers,” he said. “With wine sales up domestically, accompanied by strong exports, demand for California’s quality wines has much improved and is reaching exciting profitable levels for wineries and hopefully growers, as well.”

Of course, the 2011 growing season has been far from perfect, DiBuduo noted. Paso Robles sustained some serious frost damage, and North Coast growers are facing some smaller crops due to shatter and other weather-related issues. But that’s part of farming, said DiBuduo, a member of American/Western Fruit Grower’s editorial advisory board, a publication. “Mother Nature continues to trump all marketing efforts by having the final say on what tonnage and quality will be delivered by the end of harvest,” he said. “This year’s unusual spring weather has already delayed harvest and given us less than desirable conditions for the development of powdery mildew and associated disease and pest pressure.”

But that is minor in the grand scheme of things, said DiBuduo, noting that Allied growers this year are celebrating their 60th anniversary. Back in 1951, there were just 230 growers representing 50,000 tons. It was a very different organization, as it went on to own and operate numerous wineries and labels such as Italian Swiss Colony, which featured the ad campaign “That Little Ole Winemaker Me!” By 1987 the wineries were sold off, and it was truly a grower cooperative, which today represents 600 growers farming 31,000 acres.

Today they expect to produce 285,000 tons of grapes this year that should sell this year for more than $80 million. DiBuduo recalled that shortly after he took the reins in 2001, sales totalled just $34 million. “We never use the word, ‘glut,’ but we had a terrible oversupply,” he said. “Now the wine business in California is the place to be, and the buyers are buying — they’re not just out there kicking the tires.”

The oversupply problems of the past were particularly bad in the San Joaquin Valley, where DiBuduo noted growers of Thompson seedless, a versatile variety used for mainly raisins, but also fresh eating, concentrate, and as a blender for lower-cost wines, fetched just $65 a ton in 2001. “I felt like I was tearing a guy’s heart out and throwing it on the ground,” he said as recalled those frustrating times. “Sixty-five dollars wasn’t even covering the cost of production.”

This year growers are getting $250 a ton for Thompson seedless. “If that’s not a roller coaster ride,” he said, “I don’t know what is.” DiBuduo added that in part because of such sales, he expected to see something he’s never seen before: all grower-members south of Lodi to be sold out by the end of July. “It’s the first truly profitable — the best time — we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

As for variety and region specifics, DiBuduo said:

- Demand is good for red winegrapes, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Syrah, and Zinfandel, throughout California.

- Demand and pricing for generic varieties as blenders have given the San Joaquin Valley strong market prices. Also in the valley, there is new demand for some formerly White Zinfandel vineyards to be converted in “Sweet Red” programs.

- White varietals in the valley, such as Chardonnay and generic French Colombard, have also seen an increase in demand and prices.

- One emerging variety that is in very strong demand is Muscat Alexandria. This is made into a “Moscato-type” wine with a sweeter taste and floral bouquet that is proving quite popular.

- On the North Coast, demand is up, not quite to where it was in the 1990s, but buyers are again serious about buying. The stalwart varieties remain Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay.

- As with the San Joaquin Valley, Allied leaders remain confident that all North Coast members’ grapes will be sold, and at better prices than in 2010 prior to the start of harvest.

Leave a Reply

Featured Stories

All Vegetables Stories >All Fruits Stories >All Nuts Stories >All Citrus Stories >

The Latest

Crop ProtectionManaging Lepidoptera In Tomatoes
August 22, 2014
This video provides information on how to best identify and control Lepidoptera in tomatoes. Read More
GrapesMichigan Conference Focuses On Impact Of Climate Change…
August 22, 2014
Experts from Michigan State University, Ohio State University, and Northwestern Michigan College to discuss Polar Vortex, technology, and unmanned systems at one-day conference. Read More
GrapesNew York Grape Grower Survey Reveals Huge Losses
August 22, 2014
Cornell Cooperative Extension publishes results of a grower poll of winter injury damage. Read More
GrapesOregon Anticipates Large Grape Harvest
August 22, 2014
Growers keep fingers crossed that late-season rainfall doesn’t ruin crop. Read More
GrapesFarmers Fresh Fruit Company Integrates QR Code Into Cla…
August 22, 2014
Design allows consumers to access online information about variety, nutritional information, etc. Read More
Crop ProtectionGetting To The Root Of Good Soil Health Requires Some D…
August 21, 2014
Dave Gilliam of Horticultural Alliance says more citrus growers are paying attention to what's happening below the ground in their groves. Read More
Citrus‘Super Cold’ Winter, Sizzling Summer On Tap In 2015…
August 21, 2014
The 223rd edition of the folksy regional forecast manual predicting extremes. Read More
Insect & Disease UpdateMountains Of Data Being Used To Combat Citrus Greening
August 20, 2014
As HLB research evolves, new methods need to be developed to effectively utilize information. Read More
VegetablesAnnual Santa Maria Vegetable Meeting To Cover Progressi…
August 20, 2014
University of California Cooperative Extension will host annual vegetable meeting focusing on nutrient management, plant growth, weed management, and more. Read More
Leafy VegetablesTanimura & Antle Introduces New Lettuce Variety 
August 20, 2014
The California grower now offers George T’s Colossal Romaine Heart, in honor of the company's founder, George Tanimura. Read More
CitrusBorder Crisis Not Helping Farmers
August 19, 2014
As thousands cross into the U.S. seeking refuge, calls for ag labor reform are lost in the uproar. Read More
Cucurbits24 Sweet Watermelon Varieties [Slideshow]
August 19, 2014
Browse the slideshow below for information on 24 watermelon varieties from the nation’s leading seed breeders and distributors. Read More
FruitsHandheld Produce Quality Meter Debuts At 2014 Internati…
August 19, 2014
Researchers to present data measuring dry matter, color, and sugar content of cherries and other product pre- and postharvest. Read More
GrapesNew York State Assists Grape Growers Hit By Harsh Winte…
August 19, 2014
State to open winegrape market to grapes grown outside the state. Read More
FruitsEuropean Fruit And Vegetable Growers Hit By Russian Ban…
August 19, 2014
Angry at European Union/United States sanctions over Ukraine, Russia has banned many food imports. Read More
Apple Grower of the YearGet The Latest News On The Nation’s Apple Crop
August 19, 2014
American and Western Fruit Grower editors will be tweeting in real time this week from the Apple Crop Outlook & Marketing Conference. Read More
OrangesSour Forecast For 2014-2015 Florida Orange Crop
August 18, 2014
Paltry prediction signals lowest output in 50 years. Read More
Crop ProtectionBioConsortia Inc. Bolsters Executive Team
August 18, 2014
Industry veterans Christina Huben and Dr. Susan Turner bring experience to plant biotechnology firm. Read More