Earlier this year, it looked as if production of California wine grapes would slip a bit below average, but yields have since picked up in most classes, resulting in a strong average to above-average production.

Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers, Fresno, Calif., says the only exception is Thompson seedless, used for grape concentrate, brandy and dry white wine. He thinks that production could be down 20 percent.

“The amount of Thompson crushed in 2009, as well as the amount of raisins made this year, will probably be significantly lower than 2008,” he says.

This year’s Thompson vines started out with a light bunch count, reducing overall fruit production. Then, late-season bunch rot, affecting both raisin and wine grapes, reduced production even more.

On the other hand, DiBuduo says, sales of grapes from this year’s larger-than-average Chardonnay harvest are being impacted by a significant amount of imported bulk Chardonnay.

The overall quality of the 2009 wine grape crop has been holding, he says. “We anticipate another good quality year for wines.”

On a regional basis, he rates the overall market for the 2009 San Joaquin Valley grape crop as good. A good demand for red varieties, which beat earlier production estimates, has resulted in what DiBuduo describes as “acceptable San Joaquin Valley” prices for growers.

“In most cases, prices were at least as good as last year and, in some instances, even more. Consumers are buying the lower cost wines, so there has been sufficient demand to place all the reds produced in the San Joaquin Valley this year.”

It’s a different story for wine grape growers in the Central and North Coast areas, where production appears to be better than had been expected earlier in the season.

“It appears the economy has had a negative effect on higher-priced wines produced in these areas,” DiBuduo says. “There aren’t enough buyers to pick up the available supply of grapes. Wineries report they’re getting a backlog of case goods, which is creating a backlog of bulk wine in the tanks. We need to get buyers back to the plate to buy the grapes that are available.”

As of mid-October, there were unsold, uncontracted grapes on the Central and North Coast regions of the state. Also, a significant amount of grapes were still on the vine when a major storm hit most of California’s wine grape growing areas on October 13. Those grapes are expected to suffer damage.