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Crop Size Varies for 2010 Winegrapes

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Posted: Sunday, February 20, 2011 9:17 pm

Besides chocolate, the other present we in the wine biz get every Valentine's Day is a report card on grape sales and weight gain (or loss).

With a mission critical cup of coffee in hand, I launched my Excel spreadsheet and started typing numbers from the new 130ish-page http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/California/Publications/Grape_Crush/index.asp" target="_blank">Grape Crush Report by the California Dept of Food and Agriculture.

Despite some of the alarmist headlines you may have read from other sources, Lodi's 2010 vintage crop at 606,267 tons was about 2% bigger than the ten year average.

Sure, it was about a fifth smaller than the previous year, but 2009 set records. 2010, with no 100-degree days until the end of August was the coolest season in decades. Many winegrape growers I know did a fair amount of green crop thinning to ensure ripening and expected harvest would therefore be down 10%.

Upon digging into the numbers, production of the grapes we talk most about were, indeed, below ten-year averages: our signature grape, Zinfandel was down 19%, Chardonnay (-2%), Cabernet Sauvignon (-3%), Merlot (- 8%) and Sauvignon blanc (-12%).

What offset these drops were gains from newer plantings of the popular Pinot Noir (up eight-fold in ten years), Pinot Grigio (aka Pinot Gris, up 20-fold), and others.

Chardonnay was our largest crop at 124,768 tons - over a fifth of Lodi's total and a fifth of all Chard grown in California. Lodi continues to produce over a third of all California's Zin at 119,845 tons.

But let's answer the most important question: are Lodi vineyards making more money?

Fortunately, the average price per ton of Lodi winegrapes was up 9% over the ten year average to $469, which is where we were in 2001. This was an improvement over last year's $458, but not as good as $480 in 2008.

Lodi Zin went for an average of $434, up 2% over the ten-year $426 average, though that price was dragged down by grapes used for White Zinfandel changing hands for as low as $8.

Winegrape growers who don't mind dealing with small bins rather than 20-ton truckloads are enjoying the best lot prices from boutique wineries. Last year these small crushers paid up to $1,200 for whites like Albariño and Viognier, or $2,000 for Cabernet Franc, Mourvèdre and Syrah, and $1,700 for Zin.

When you consider that Napa Zin is going for $2,781 per ton and Napa Cab for $4,481, we can see that our local growers have the potential for bigger profits once brand Lodi becomes even more firmly connected to high quality.

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