California grape rowers are getting better prices for grapes this season. However, they’re shelling more money out to produce the in-demand crop.

“Grape prices are strong,” says Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers in Fresno, Calif. “We’ve seen a significant price increase in most varietals – from Chardonnay to Cabernet and good demand even for Merlot. Prices are anywhere from 50 to 75 percent higher than the last couple of years. Thompson Seedless, for example, which brought $150 per ton the last couple of years, is $225 this year. (San Joaquin Valley) Chardonnay has gone from $250 to $350 to $500.”

Even so, it’s no windfall. “These are prices growers need just to cover costs,” DiBuduo says. “The cost of farming has gone up so much it has wiped out much of the profitability.”

“I think the rise in grape prices has been mostly fueled by the short crop this year,” says Jeff Bitter, Allied vice president. “There was significant impact from the spring frosts this year and also the impact of less moisture in the ground. It’s been two years now that we’ve had only 60-70 percent of the rainfall that we should have seen.”

Neither DiBuduo nor Bitter is buying the government estimates of this year’s crop.

“The July estimate was 3.4 million tons,” DiBuduo says. “It was 3.25 million tons last year. We don’t think it’s going to hit anywhere near the 3.4-million -ton mark this season.”

“I don’t think it’s going to even meet last year’s average when you look at the dry winter, dry spring, frost damage, wind damage and drought,” Bitter says. “If we get to 3.1 million tons, I think that would be pretty good, all things considered.”