California’s total grape acreage has fallen to its lowest level in 13 years, and that is good news for surviving grape growers.

According to the California field office of the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), there were a total of 842,000 acres of all grapes standing in the state; 50,000 were non-bearing.

That is the lowest non-bearing acreage since 1993.

The 2010 acreage represents a loss of 113,000 acres of grapevines compared to the 955,000 acres standing in 2000. That included 128,000 non-bearing that year.

Low grape prices, especially for raisin and wine grapes, are responsible for this decline. A huge crop in the middle of a downturn is another factor. Wine grape market uncertainty, as well as more attractive crops like almonds, pistachios, pomegranates and others horticultural crops have taken a big roll on California grape acreage. More than 100,000 acres of vines have been bulldozed in the San Joaquin Valley over the past decade and replaced by other crops. Most of that was Thompson seedless.

The wine-type grape acreage for 2010 is estimated at 535,000 acres by NASS.  Of the total acres, 497,000 were bearing and 38,000 were non-bearing. Table grape acreage totaled 94,000 acres with 9,000 non-bearing. Acreage of raisin-type grapes totaled 213,000 acres, of which 210,000 were bearing and 3,000 were non-bearing.

The leading wine-type varieties continued to be Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Flame Seedless was the leading table-type grape variety.

Thompson Seedless continued to be the leading raisin-type variety and was utilized for raisins, fresh market, concentrate, and wine.

The viticultural bloodbath may be over, at least for one season, as supplies seem to be in balance with winery demand. Raisin grape production finally reached equilibrium with demand last year, when for the first time in decades growers received 100 percent of an established field price at harvest. For many years, growers received only a percentage of the field price and the rest went into a surplus pool to be sold at discounted prices.

For wine grapes, prices have been largely less than the cost of production for several years. One reason is the importation of wine in bulk and bottle. That continues with one out of every three bottles of wine sold in the U.S. from foreign grown grapes. Many of these wines are imported by California wineries either as bottled products or bulk which is blended with California wine. Much of this bulk has come into the U.S. from countries with an oversupply. Two years ago so much Chardonnay was imported, it hung over the domestic Chardonnay market for at least two years and some say three seasons. Wineries are opting to buy cheap bulk wine overseas rather than buy it from California growers.

The U.S. recession since 2008 also has had a dramatic impact on wine sales, particularly premium wines. Restaurant wine sales plummeted. Wine drinkers gravitated to lower priced wines with fewer dollars available. As the economy turns around, these value wines continue to be popular since consumers have discovered they can buy good quality wine at bargain prices. Premium wine sales are coming back, but are still lagging behind the value priced wines.