Belying predictions, Napa County’s 2013 grape crop was only off 2012’s record mark by about 8,000 tons, earning local growers $638 million last year, the second highest crop value since state statistics have been kept by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Napa County’s most recent grape crop weighed in at 172,978 tons last fall, down by just 4 percent over the record 2012 harvest of 181,183 tons. Growers had predicted a much smaller harvest would follow the previous season’s bumper crop.
As a result, the total value of last fall’s crush fell by only $10 million, a relatively insignificant 1.6 percent drop when compared to the 2012 season.
California officials midday Monday released the preliminary 2013 grape crop report, showing that new tonnage records were set statewide while, on average, grape prices declined.
“Napa is out of sync with everybody,” declared industry analyst George Schofield. “The entire state is up in volume and down in price and Napa is just the opposite.”
The gain in average prices was insufficient to offset the decline in local production, Schofield pointed out. “Nevertheless, considering the record-breaking level of 2012, the economic performance and contribution of the grape industry to the country in 2013 should be considered outstanding. Nobody should be complaining.”
Prices up, tonnage significant
Cabernet sauvignon is still king in Napa Valley, with 65,757 tons accounting for 38 percent of the entire Napa Valley grape crop. Last year’s cabernet harvest dropped nearly 5,200 tons, some 7 percent below the huge 2012 harvest of 70,935 tons.
At an average of $5,499 a ton, the price for Napa cabernet sauvignon continues to climb, up 7 percent ($398) over the previous year. The price paid for Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon is more than twice what’s paid per ton for the Bordeaux variety in Sonoma County, noted Sue Brewster, who works with Schofield in analyzing wine industry trends and issues, “while cabernet prices in the interior regions were in the range of $500 to $700 per ton.”
“Clearly, Napa is king in quality recognition for cabernet sauvignon,” added Schofield. He said that cabernet sauvignon accounts for 57 percent of total grape revenue in Napa County. “However, Napa may have lost some of its appeal for cooler climate grapes such as pinot noir, while the river valleys adjacent to the ocean in Sonoma and Santa Barbara have gained even higher prices.”
“The average price (for grapes) in California went down but we’re sure not seeing that with cabernet here,” echoed Mike Fisher, partner with St. Helena’s Global Wine Partners. “The price of cabernet continues to have significant increases ... it’s good if you’re growing cabernet.”
In addition, the price for valley chardonnay was up by a modest 4 percent, to $2,474 per ton, while tonnage was down slightly — 30,776 tons, a 3 percent decline of 1,015 tons — after a hefty tonnage jump of 51 percent in 2012.
Brewster pointed out Napa grapegrowers are paid, on average, 20 percent more per ton of chardonnay than are their counterparts in Sonoma County.
The county’s other early maturing Burgundy variety, pinot noir, weighed in at 11,390 tons, only down 3 percent, or 306 tons, from the record 2012 harvest. Of the five major grape varieties grown here, pinot noir is the only one that saw a price drop last year. But that was only a decline of 1 percent, down but $35 to an average of $2,450 a ton.
The only significant growth in crop size occurred with sauvignon blanc, up by 3,186 tons (or 20 percent) to 17,974 tons — on the heels of a 75 percent increase in volume in 2012. The price for sauvignon blanc was up by 1 percent ($18), to $1,899 per ton.
Merlot production dropped by 16 percent to 20,843 tons. But the average price paid for a ton of Napa Valley merlot rose 5 percent ($130) to $2,792.
Additional tonnages and average prices paid for other Napa Valley grape varieties in 2013 include:
• Cabernet franc, 3,667 tons, $5,281.
• Malbec, 2,411 tons, $4,103.
• Muscat blanc, 471 tons, $1,980.
• Petite sirah, 3,457 tons, $3,360.
• Petit verdot, 2,737 tons, $5,112.
• Pinot gris, 669 tons, $1,686.
• Riesling, 458 tons, $2,707.
• Semillon, 945 tons, $2,596.
• Syrah, 2,758 tons, $3,132.
• Viognier, 391 tons, $2,873.
• Zinfandel, 5,275 tons, $3,145.
Sonoma and state statistics
The value of the grape crop in Sonoma County increased last year by $20 million, to $603 million. Chardonnay was the big ticket item in Sonoma, with tonnage up by 7 percent to 878,344 tons. The price for chardonnay increased 2.5 percent to $1,940 per average ton.
Sonoma’s cabernet sauvignon harvest weighed in at 43,730 tons, a drop off 7.3 percent. The price for a ton of Sonoma cabernet is $2,501, an increase of $187 a ton over 2012.
Statewide, the 2013 crush set some records. Tonnage was up 7 percent — to 4,685,075 tons — from 2012’s previous record high of 4,387,434 tons. Red wine varieties accounted for the largest share of all grapes crushed, at 2,405,942 tons, up 5 percent from 2012. The 2013 white wine variety crush totaled 1,824,625 tons, up 6 percent from 2012.
The 2013 average price of all varieties was $706, down 4 percent from 2012. The average price paid for red grapes was $842, down 5 percent from the previous year, while white grapes, averaging $620, were down less than 1 percent from 2012.
Last year, chardonnay continued to account for the largest percentage of total crush volume with 16.1 percent. Cabernet sauvignon accounted for the second highest percent of the California crush at 11.1 percent.
Grapes produced in Napa County received the highest average price of $3,691 per ton, up 4 percent from 2012. Sonoma County growers received the second highest return of $2,249, up 3 percent.
“Consumer demand for California wine is strong,” said Heidi Scheid, chair of the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG). “After short crops in 2010 and 2011, growers delivered two remarkable vintages, with record-sized harvests and exceptional quality. California wine is well-positioned to take advantage of the large crops and I’m optimistic about our future.”
“With limited water availability and diminishing labor supply, it’s a testament to the ingenuity of growers that they were able to deliver on supply and quality as they’ve done the past two years,” added John Aguirre, president of CAWG.