Harvest Yields

Every harvest (grape and otherwise) almost always has its challenges. Some years are greater than others. This year has certainly proven to be challenging for growers, but I’m still extremely optimistic about the outcome.

As I wrote about last week, the grape harvest has officially begun in Northern California’s wine country. It started with sparkling wine grapes as it always does. J Vineyards and Winery kicked it off with quite the pomp and circumstance – and rightfully so. They picked a grand total of 1.5 tons of grapes on that first day. Not a lot. Likely just enough to fill about 4-5 barrels with finished juice. But I give them a lot of credit for having such great fanfare on that day. It’s an exciting time.

But then this story is posted today about crop levels and yields. It says that in some areas the harvest could be 20-30% less than the average. Not really news if you’ve been following this growing season. It’s just interesting that we get great news one day and the next day the news is not so good. I guess that could sum up the last couple of years in this area. But we won’t know for sure what everything looks like until the grapes are harvested.

Even so, less crop right now isn’t terribly bad. Most wineries are dealing with a backlog of inventory and when I visit their tasting rooms, it shows. Where they should be tasting 2009 Chardonnays and 2007 Cabernets, they are tasting 2007 Chards and 2005 or 6 Cabs. Overall, not terrible, but definitely behind the average. But when I see tasting rooms selling 2006 Sauvignon Blancs, it’s a sign there is something wrong. That type of wine should usually be enjoyed in its youth. After that amount of time it loses all of its bright, fresh character. But it’s not all bad. In the past some of these wines have needed aging and it’s something you would have to do in your own cellar. Now you can visit most wineries and the wines are totally ready to drink.

Low yields in the vineyards can also be devastating to those who only grow grapes for a living. If your business is grape growing and you count on a certain amount of tons per acre (because wineries pay by the ton), then you better be getting a certain crop level out of your fields. If not, it could mean you’d have to cut corners in the future because of cash flow. Not good.

There are, of course, exceptions to this. And there’s some wineries I’ve visited recently that are very current. It’s these wineries that will suffer the most from two years of low crop levels. Inventories could be so tight that they may run out of product at times. That may not sound bad, but when you run out of a wine and can’t replace it with the next vintage that’s lost revenue.

So, like anything in the wine industry, it depends. The lower yields could mean some wineries can catch up on their vintages. It could also mean that some growers are in for another tough year. It just depends which side of the grape you’re on. More on this vintage as soon as it begins to reveal itself.


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