The start of bud push in the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley began the week of March 6, amid cool, rainy weather, says Peter Vallis, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Wine Growers Association.
The organization’s members produce grapes on about 150,000 acres of vineyards stretching from the Tehachapi Mountains in the south to Stockton, Calif., in the north.
Growers were hoping for warmer, drier weather to reduce disease pressures as they prepared to start fungicide applications later this spring.
“Overall, it was a pretty good winter for us, and all the fieldwork seems to have gone smoothly,” Vallis says.
Association members in areas of Fresno, Merced and San Joaquin counties, where European grapevine moth quarantines were established last year, remain concerned about the impact of compliance procedures on their operations. Overall, though, they see their prospects brightening as the new season gets under way.
“They’re optimistic and starting to get kind of bullish on the market for their grapes,” Vallis says. “They’re starting to get their swagger back — and that’s good.”
This confidence has been instilled by recent changes in the buying habits of wine consumers. Reacting to the troubled economy, they’re buying lower-priced bottles of wines.
“Over the past two years, consumers have moved their purchase price point down from $15 to $20 bottles to those selling for under $10. To sustain consumer demand for high quality, wines need to be made from grapes that can grow heavier crops, without diminishing flavor. Our San Joaquin Valley grapes are the ones filling those bottles of wine.
“I’m very optimistic about the strong demand for valley grapes,” Vallis says. “Regardless of the variety, the outlook for all of them looks positive.”
That includes Valley-grown Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, as well as Muscat and floral types. “If the varietal is from the Valley, wineries seem to want what we have,” he says
Still, he doubts if many growers are planning any immediate expansion in production capacity.
“After a decade of being hammered by low prices, my guess is that growers want to make some money before investing in new vineyards,” Vallis says.
“Planting grapes is expensive and the returns have to match those of other crops they could plant, such as tree nuts. One thing our members are talking about is how they can reinvest in their vineyards in an economically sustainable way. The long-term viability of California’s wine industry depends on the ability of growers to make a fair profit.”