Estimating vineyard is a tricky business, but if the latest USDA/NASS acreage report proves correct, less than 12,000 acres of grapes were planted last year in the state.

NASS does its best in surveying 8,500 California grape growers to gather acreage information. However, oftentimes the acreage for each year changes as NASS gathers more information.

If the acreage planted in ’06 holes true with more surveying next season, it will represent the lowest acreage of grapevines planted since 1986 when a little more than 10,000 acres were planted.

Take out the 2,400 acres of Pinot Noir estimated planted in ’06, and the newly planted acreage for last season falls below 10,000 acres.

This drop off in acreage reflects the growing uncertainty in the wine grape market where contracts continue to be offered at bargain basement prices, if at all, even though wine sales in the U.S. continue to grow.

More than 100,000 acres of vines have been taken out in the central valley over the past five years and more vineyards are continuing to disappear.

They are most often replaced by crops like almonds, pomegranates and pistachios, which offer more profit opportunities in the long run.

Overall, California grape acreage remains flat with 860,000 acres in the ground now. Non-bearing acreage is 63,000. Wine grape acreage is up 1 percent; table grape acreage is flat and raisin grape acreage down 2.4 percent.