What is in this article?:
- 2012 crush begins with smaller Thompson seedless crop.
- Wine-variety grape crops larger than 2011, but average size.
- No more than 20 percent of grape crop unsold on eve of California harvest.
- Excessive heat and a short labor supply could cause harvest problems.
Excessive heat that has cloaked the Central Valley in mid-August is threatening the wine grape crop. Exposed bunches like these could be subject to sunburn.
California’s grape crush is under way with an aura of optimism that transcends the past two seasons and could end up as one of the best years in a decade.
Any doubts that this could be the season to remember are disappearing with the brisk bidding for green Thompson seedless grapes as the statewide crush begins.
Before harvest, the opening price for Thompsons was $300 per ton, $35 more per ton than last season. Several wineries kicked that up to $310 as harvest started, and during the weekend of Aug. 10-11 one winery bumped it to $325, more than 22 percent over last year’s price.
It’s all about supply and demand. The Thompson crop is off at least 25 percent from last year, according to Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Growers.
This is turning into another season of brisk bidding for Thompsons from wineries and raisin packers. No field price has been set for raisins, but already a $2,000 per ton price is being bantered around. That is $300 more than packers paid last year. Last season, as wineries increased the price for Thompsons during the crush, raisin packers sweetened their bid for raisins by $200 from the pre-harvest negotiated price of $1,500 per ton to maintain their supply of raisins.
The $65 per ton over the $265 2011 would give growers an additional $650 per acre in income and bump the income from a 10-ton Thompson crop to more than $3,200 per acre.
Unlike the Thompson crop, wine-type grape production is expected to be up this season. Wine-type variety grape production for California is forecast at 3.7 million tons by NASS, up 9 percent from the 2011 crop.
The wine grape crop estimate “is not too far off,” according to DiBuduo.
“I’d call the wine grape crop a good average wine grape crop,” he says, adding, “If we have 3.7 million tons of wine grapes, crush 300,000 tons of raisin type grapes and crush 100,000 tons of table grape strippings, we can hit a 4.1-million-ton crush in 2012.”
That would make it the second largest crush in history behind the 4.3 million tons crushed in 2005. That crush hung over the market for several years, forcing prices down. However, 2012 is a different scenario with growing wine sales and strong winery demand for growers’ grapes.
DiBuduo estimates no more than the 20 percent of the crop from 850,000 acres of grapes remain unsold. That’s not because of a lack of demand. Growers are holding out for more money.
“There are pockets of grapes still uncommitted. I would say 15 percent of the North Coast grapes are still available and a few grapes are still available in the Lodi area,” he said. Sold-out signs hang on the farm gates of most Central Valley vineyards.
DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers, the state’s largest wine grape marketing cooperative with 600 growers selling to more than 100 wineries, says grower prices are 25 percent to 40 percent higher than last year, depending on the variety.
Allied is expected to top $100 million in sales this season.