The huge 2005, 3.74-million-ton wine grape crush created a 15-month California wine inventory. However, there is no California wine grape glut — yet, according to John Ciatti of Joseph W. Ciatti Company.

“As long as 2006 doesn’t give us more than an additional 12 to 13 months worth of inventory — and assuming wine sales trends continue — we’ll be able to work through our inventories in a relatively short period of time,” said Ciatti.

Ciatti, like most everyone else, is not counting on back-to-back huge crops, but no one thought ’05 would be as huge as it became.

He predicts in the wake of the ’05 surprise, “everyone will pay much more information from a variety of information sources” this season.

“Last spring was not optimal and this could have effects on fruit bud differentiation that may impact the upcoming crop, but it’s still too early to tell,” Ciatti added.

The flip side is that heavy winter and spring rains have filled the soil water profile and “vines will probably take advantage of its availability.” This could produce a large crop. It will certainly create canopy management challenges.

Bulk wine inventory from the 2005 crop is already hitting the market and some of it is coming from what Ciatti calls “non-traditional sellers, as large wine companies re-evaluate their supply picture.” Bulk wine is being sources from throughout California, not just the Central Valley, he noted.

Bulk sales have been primarily from last year’s crush. However, Ciatti said there have also been additional ’04 tonnage released.

Inventories “are still the heaviest on the Big Three: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Ciatti said there is “some interest” in floral varietals like Gewurztraminer, White Riesling, Muscat, and “decent movement” on Red and White Zinfandel.

“Pinot Grigio remains strong with inventory being depleted. As it has been, the market for Pinot Noir continues to be absolutely ridiculous… insane, really. It would be nice to see increased activity on other mixed reds.”

Ciatti said much of the bulk volume activity moves from January to July and so far, there has been solid, general activity, “but large volume transactions are lacking. We need volume to pick-up soon so that we can avert upcoming pre-crush storage issues.

Ciatti offered these final “Points to Ponder:”

- Were growers encouraged to hang more fruit in order to compensate for the light crops in 2003 and 2004?

- Was the huge 2005 crop a result of extensive vineyard modifications, proper rootstock and vine density, or just plain Mother Nature lining all the factors together for the “perfect storm?”

- Will 2006 & 2007 provide abundant enough tonnages to sustain the projected future growth of California programs?

e-mail: hcline@farmpress.com