The California Department of Food and Agriculture 2018 Grape Crush Report, published later than usual on April 10, reported smaller-than-anticipated but still record-breaking grape harvests of approximately 4.282 million tons, which is about 6.6% up from the 2017 harvest and slightly higher than the previous record of 4.246 million tons set in 2013.
Looking forward, vine development for the 2019 growing season is running about 10 days behind throughout the state as a result of cooler-than average temperatures, according to Ciatti Global Wine & Grape Brokers’ May 2019 California Report.
Currently, the California wine and grape markets are a bit quiet, with the hesitancy of grape buyers likely “compounded by the delay in the publishing of the 2018 crush report and the current uncertainty regarding the 2019 harvest,” the report states. Meanwhile, the average price per ton of California grapes was up 7% from $824 in 2017 to $882 in 2018.
Varietals on the Market
Some varietals from the coastal area decreased in price, which seems due to the large harvest and additional un-contracted fruit finding its way onto the spot market.
The varietals experiencing rapid production growth and high-yielding harvests in the North Coast, the northern Central Coast and Lodi include:
- Pinot Noir: The 2018 harvest was up by about 19% over 2017.
- Cabernet: The 2018 harvest was approximately 13% higher than 2017.
Encouraged by strong demand for high-quality Cabernet and Pinot Noir, plenty of ground on the coast was devoted to planting these varieties over the past couple years. Now demand has slowed, leaving an abundance of bulk Cabernet and Pinot Noir on the market.
The average price for Cabernet rose in 2018, while Pinot Noir decreased slightly. It is expected the yields for both varietals will rise again in 2019, with Cabernet’s statewide yield potentially surpassing that of Chardonnay.
Chardonnay inventory also has been slowly creeping up but in a more balanced way. The 2017 yield was not massive and demand for the varietal is good. Merlot’s production has remained relatively flat over the past couple years. Demand is declining and the varietal’s growing acreage is adjusting to reflect that.
Harvests by Grape Sourcing Regions
The North Coast harvest was large across Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino, but slightly down in Lake County. Chardonnay and Cabernet were primarily responsible for the volume rise across the North Coast.
Down in the Central Coast, the harvest was fairly average-sized. The total yields in Monterey and San Luis Obispo/Santa Barbara were up by 5.9% and 5%, respectively. While the northern part of the region saw big yields, the harvest in the southern area was unimpressive.
The Interior region’s yield was up by 4% compared to 2017, with double-digit yield increases in Lodi and Clarksburg offsetting falls in the southern Valley areas of Bakersfield and Madera/Fresno. The southern Interior’s harvest came in smaller than expected, mainly due to some intense heat spells.
According to the Ciatti report, bulk wine pricing for certain varietals in some regions is trending downward, which is likely to continue in the months leading up to 2019 harvest as suppliers seek to create more storage space. With more wines being listed and entering the market each day, now is a good time for buyers to step in and secure the wine they need.
Suppliers and buyers can keep track of what is happening in the California wine and grape markets by downloading the monthly market report from Ciatti or subscribing to receive the California report each month.