The once-gloomy market for California’s North Coast wine grapes continues to improve — and none too soon for growers.

The prices for premium wine grapes followed the downward spiral of the economy that began in 2008, and it wasn’t until early this year that they began reversing direction. That was after wineries had reduced product prices to whittle away the backlog of unsold case goods that had built up following several years of large crops and faltering demand from recession-battered consumers.

“Most wineries have dealt with their excess inventories and, price-wise, growers should be pretty happy this year,” Brian Hendrix, co-owner of H&H Wine Brokerage, Napa, Calif. told GrapeLine, an e-newsletter distributed by Western Farm Press. “Prices have been healthy and demand has been better than in the past two years.”

Among the varieties benefiting the most from the market turn-around, he says, are Cabernet Sauvignon and to a lesser extent, Zinfandel. For example, last year, Napa Valley Cabernet grapes were selling in the $1,500 to $3,500 a ton range, Hendrix notes. This year, average spot market prices for that varietal have rebounded to $3,500 to $5,000 per ton.

He estimates contract prices being offered to North Coast growers this season in the range of around $1,000 to $8,000 per ton for Cabernet Sauvignon. “We’ve had prices as high as $8,500 per ton for extremely premium location grapes,” he says.

You can read more about what Hendrix had to say about California wine grape prices in other areas of the state by visiting back issues of GrapeLine at http://subscribe.westernfarmpress.com/subscribe.cfm?tc=NNWEB where you can also subscribe to future, exclusive in depth issues. Mailed twice monthly through September, the e-newsletter is sponsored by Chemtura AgroSolutions.

Average Fresno County crop

Success in controlling relentless powdery mildew pressure this season, combined with unusually few insect pests, has resulted in nice-looking vineyards at Dwayne Cardoza Ranches, Inc., near Easton, and for other raisin growers in this area of central Fresno County, Calif.

“You can drive all over the countryside around here and everyone’s vineyard looks very lush,” Dwayne Cardoza told GrapeLine. “Except for mildew, they’ve been really clean of disease all season long.”

Facing just a single disease threat to his crop up to this point in the year is unusual, Cardoza notes. In addition to powdery mildew, he and his neighbors often contend with phomopsis. Keeping powdery mildew at bay this year has been a long, tough battle, one that Cardoza waged from early spring until veraison began the first week of July.

“Every raisin grower around here was fighting mildew flare-ups this year,” he says. To control the disease he began dusting his vines with sulfur every seven days until early July, after which he treated with Kaligreen shortly before berries started softening.