Almost 70 percent of the wine and concentrate crushed last season in California was San Joaquin Valley grapes, yet you would be hard pressed to find a bottle of wine with a SJV label.
The San Joaquin Valley is the Rodney Dangerfield of the wine business. It gets no respect in the wine business. It's called jug wine or pop wine country. Grower are hammered on price because wineries say heavy cropping, less than ideal weather and other factors make valley wine grapes less desirable.
However, there's a better than even chance there are SJV grapes in a bottle of California wine carrying a California appellation or any of the “wines in a box,” one of the most popular wine packages.
Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers and a longtime valley grape grower, believes it is about time the valley starts getting some respect and recognition from the public.
He said there are 30 grape or wine organizations in the state, yet there is not one that represents exclusively SJV wine grapes.
Time to promote
“It's time we take pride in and promote the San Joaquin Valley,” said DiBuduo, who is heading up an exploratory effort supported by the California Association of Winegrape Growers to form an organization similar to the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission.
Lodi-Woodbridge has gained considerable fame by transforming one of the oldest grape growing areas of the state around Lodi, Calif., into a premium wine grape producing area.
It was done by promotion as well as by an extensive viticultural enhancement program to improve grape quality. DiBuduo believes the same thing can work in the San Joaquin Valley.
“We have held three exploratory meetings that drew more than 30 key valley wine grape people and now we are developing more information to present to growers,” said DiBuduo, who added the organization will be voluntary. The Lodi-Woodbridge group is a state-chartered commission where growers are assessed to fund the commission.
“I was on the phone not along ago and was talking about the federal funds being allocated for the so-called specialty or non-commodity crops,” he said. “Raisins, wine gapes and concentrate were not even part of the discussion in Congress yet the apple guys in the Northwest are getting help because the concentrate market is bad.
“I am not saying we should get federal support, but it points out that the valley needs a unified voice,” he said.
The San Joaquin Valley cannot compete in the premium wine world of California's North Coast and Central Coast, but DiBuduo said the valley should be receiving the recognition it deserves.
“I think there are things we can do to improve the quality of valley grapes, but with that has to come the rewards and recognition for those efforts like the Lodi-Woodbridge group,” he said.
This is not a new road for DiBuduo who was with Angelo Papagni in the late 70s when the Madera, Calif., winery tried to compete against the coastal wineries.
“Back then it was very difficult to get recognition with Madera County on the label,” DiBuduo. It may be easier to get SJV recognition today with the huge growth in wine products like White Zinfandel.
“I'm saying if the San Joaquin Valley can tag along with the California appellations, it would give the valley recognition and may boost the price of grower's grapes,” he said.