With relatively little winery buying and low prices, many growers consider custom crushing their grapes each year and sell wine in the bulk market. “Psychologically, it is tough to spend all year producing a crop and then not be able to sell it or get a decent price for the grapes. However, I think a lot of banks are weighing in on the cost of custom crushing. It takes deep pockets to bulk wine.”

Growers are not attuned to aggressively following the bulk market. Weiss believes it is imperative that you “listen” to wineries and bulk wine marketers before making any custom crush decision. Like this year, Weiss said he kept hearing that it is not the year to bulk whites, but may be a “pretty good bet” to custom crush Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot or other reds.

“When times are tough, wineries spend less money buying regions and quality. They tend to buy on price and everyone is becoming aware of the increasing impact on California markets from foreign wines.”

Weiss added that the consolidation of wineries worldwide is also making it challenging to sell grapes. Growers do not really have a way of analyzing the foreign markets except through brokers. “Growers are trying to get educated on this new global market, but they really do not have the tools,” he said.

The 2009 shipments of large quantities of Chardonnay, primarily from Australia, was the latest wake-up call that California is in a global wine marketplace.

“A grape grower cannot turn Chardonnay into Pinot Noir like a row crop grower can rotate crops. Yes, there are ways to graft to change varieties, but it is expensive and you really do not get uniformity; grafted over vines are never the same after a variety change,” he said.

Some growers have tried this in grafting over Merlot to the far more lucrative Pinot Noir and now the Pinot market is “stabilizing.” Some of that “new” Pinot is coming from less desirable regions for the quality necessary to produce in demand grapes. “I am not saying this changeover is doomed, but I think it is in for a rocky road ahead,” he said.

This uncertainty prompted Weiss to put on hold development of 300 acres of new ground for vineyards. Some of it has been on hold for 10 years. “I think it will be two to three years minimum before there is sufficient demand to plant grapes for a new contract with a winery,” he said.