Grape leader Jeff Bitter says the California wine industry overall is purring like a well-tuned engine, yet beware of bumps in the road including foreign competition, alternative beverages, and rising input costs.

Bitter’s overall message included more wine industry positives than concerns during his frank message to about 300 grape grower members of Allied Grape Growers (AGG) at its annual meeting in Fresno, Calif. in July. About 150 grower members attended Allied’s second annual meeting in Santa Rosa (450 total).

Among the good news, Bitter said, “There’s more California wine consumed than ever before in the U.S.”

Bitter spent about 30 minutes expounding on today’s issues and short-term forecast for the wine industry. Bitter is AGG’s vice-president who pinch hit for absent AGG President Nat DiBuduo due to illness.

From the get go, Bitter addressed one of the top wine industry questions as the California grape harvest nears - will this year’s production meet or surpass the four-million-ton mark for a third year in a row?

“The answer is debatable,” Bitter said. “I’ve heard estimates from 3.7 million tons to 4.3 million tons for this year’s crop. We’ll see how it comes out.”

Industry chatter suggests tonnage could fall just short of the four million tons. Time will tell.

Bitter calls 4 million tons the new production “normal” in California; acknowledging that 4.5-million-ton crops are likely around the corner due to higher yields and newer vineyards entering commercial stride.

“The California wine industry remains strong – sales are strong,” Bitter said.