Rainy Harvest (copy)

Napa County's wine grape harvest had a record value of $751 million in 2017. The average value of grapes from one acre was $17,200

One of the wettest winters on record, three summer heat waves and massive October wildfires in 2017 didn’t stop Napa County from having a record-setting agricultural year.

The agricultural production value was $757 million, compared to the previous record of $737 million set in 2016. Wine grapes accounted for 99 percent of the total.

“Agriculture in Napa County continues to be vibrant,” Agricultural Commissioner Greg Clark said, adding agriculture is the linchpin of the local economy and provides open space.

Clark on Tuesday presented the annual crop report to the Napa County Board of Supervisors.

Yield from 43,000 acres of grapes fell from 3.39 tons-per-acre the previous year to 3.13 tons-per-acre. But the total value of grapes increased from $730 million to $751 million.

Total red wine grape value rose from $624 million in 2016 to $656 million in 2017. That more than offset the drop in white grape value from $106 million to $95 million. White grape prices were up, but tonnage was down.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot accounted for 70 percent of production and 80 percent of total wine grape value.

Fire Impact

The Atlas, Partrick-Nuns and Tubbs fires began on Oct. 8, when 10 percent of the grapes remained on the vines. The Agricultural Commissioner’s Office worked with Cal Fire and other agencies to create a system allowing farmers to be escorted on closed roads to their farms, the crop report said.

Agricultural-related damage from the fires totals about $21 million, Clark said. About half of that was crops and range land and the rest such things as equipment and fences. About 3,500 acres of vineyards are located in the burned areas, of which 126 acres burned.

Second to grapes in value – a distant second—was livestock at $3.4 million, slightly higher than in 2016. More heads of cattle moved through the county last year. However, the value may drop in 2018 as damaged range land recovers from the fires, the crop report said.

Floral and nursery crops such as lavender, irises, vegetable starts and cut flowers plummeted in total value, from $2.1 million in 2016 to $652,000. The crop report blamed the wet winter and the closure of several production nurseries.

The total value of olives increased from $457,000 to $520,000. Cool, wet weather and summer heat waves likely pushed down the population of olive fruit fly and other pests. Hot weather also pushed ripening and harvesting dates back a month, the report said.

Clark mentioned the challenges of creating agricultural diversity in the county. The production value on vegetables—all 25 acres—was about $10,000 per acre, compared to $17,200 per acre for grapes.

“The economics of it, as pointed out there, really play into that, as well as land availability and some other things,” Clark said.

People aren’t going to travel to Napa County to see the bell pepper harvest, he said.

Napa County total agricultural value has exceeded the $700-million mark three times, in 2014, 2016 and 2017. The agricultural value was $553 million in 2015 and a decade ago was usually in the $400 million-to-$500 million range.

Despite Napa County’s high-value grape crop, its record-setting $757 million agricultural production total is dwarfed by farming output in some California counties. Table grapes, almonds, citrus, pistachios and milk in 2016 helped push the Kern County value to $7.1 billion.

50 Years Ago

This is the 50th anniversary of Napa County’s agricultural preserve, which many credit with saving the valley from being built over with subdivisions and shopping malls. The crop report from the preserve birth year of 1968 depicts a very different agricultural economy.

The grand total for all crops in 1968 was $23 million, which is $165 million when adjusted for inflation. Grapes accounted for $6 million of the total – 26 percent—just barely more than beef. Prunes were a significant player at $1.2 million. Walnut, pears and apples all had their niche.

But the signs of the future grape-centric Napa could already be seen. The area’s world-famous wine country was poised to take a big leap to even bigger fame.

“New wine grape acreage, devoted principally to premium varietal plantings, continues to show a marked increase,” the 1968 crop report said.

The increase had only just begun.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.