The initial 2010 California wine grape crop from USDA/NASS, based on 489,000 bearing acres, predicts a crop of 3.5 million tons, a 6 percent decline from last year’s crush.

“That would only be about 5 percent above the average crop size of 3.3 million to 3.4 million tons,” says Jeff Bitter, vice president of operations for Allied Grape Growers, the state’s largest wine grape marketing co-op., at Fresno, Calif.

Although Allied has yet to make a crop size estimate of its own, Bitter says 3.5 million tons is at the high end of the range that he expects. A 5 percent bigger-than-average crop, coupled with a decline in wine shipments, could be a concern for growers, particularly those in the high end of the market, he says.

“That part of the market already has sufficient inventory left from last year’s big crop, and at the lower end, inventory is moving well. So, an above-average crop wouldn’t necessarily spell doom or gloom for this market segment. The impact would be felt almost exclusively at the high end.”

Except for the Lodi area, where he’s looking for lower production following last year’s large crop, Bitter expects San Joaquin Valley growers will harvest about the same amount of wine grapes in 2010 as in 2009 — despite considerable differences already apparent among several varieties.

“Production of Syrah in the San Joaquin Valley is noticeably smaller than last year,” he says. “French Colombard looks to be a good-size crop this year. So does Muscat.”

Still, he points out, it’s a long time until harvest. “It’s still early in the season,” Bitter says. “The grapes have just barely finished the veraison stage.”