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wine industry

Napa grape harvest volume down, prices up

Lives of the Vines (copy)

Grapes await harvesting at Ehlers Estate last September.

Because of unfavorable weather, the value of Napa County’s grape harvest declined 24.5 percent in 2015, from $706 million in 2014 to $533 million.

At the same time, the average price per ton for Napa County grapes rose 6 percent to $4,328 per ton, the highest in the state.

California Department of Agriculture officials released the preliminary 2015 grape crop report midday Thursday, showing that the number of tons harvested in Napa County declined from 173,770 tons in 2014 to 123,319 last year, a 29 percent drop.

“We had reasonably large harvests for the past three years,” said Steve Dorfman of the Ciatti Company in San Rafael. “To have a decrease in volume is not unheard of.”

“It’s just one of those years you end up with smaller crop,” said Mike Fisher, a partner at Global Wine Partners in St. Helena. Wind, heat, cold and rain can all affect the pollination of grapes. Those factors can contribute to straggly clusters or fewer grapes, he said.

“The weather was not 100 percent conducive to yielding a big crop” in 2015, said Dorfman. “We’ve seen this up and down the coast.”

Some may wonder if the decline in volume was due to the drought, but neither man said that was the case.

“We had plenty of water,” said Dorfman.

“I don’t know of anyone who needed to irrigate that couldn’t figure out how to do it,” said Fisher.

After three larger harvests in a row, “The vines just took a bit of a rest,” Dorfman said.

“That’s the nature of the grape vine” and farming, said Fisher. “It ebbs and flows.”

Cabernet sauvignon grapes hold the top spot in Napa Valley, with 52,790 tons produced. That’s a 23 percent decrease from last year’s cab crush, which totaled 68,921 tons.

At an average of $6,319 a ton, the price for the valley’s cabernet sauvignon continues to climb, up 6 percent over last year’s value of $5,930 a ton.

The average price paid for valley chardonnay in 2015 was up slightly to $2,595, while tonnage dropped from 30,329 in 2014 to 21,097 this past year.

Tonnage also dropped for sauvignon blanc, from 15,079 to 10,889 tons. The price for a ton of sauvignon blanc increased to $2,011 on average from $1,909 a year ago.

Local merlot production also declined, down 25 percent to 14,001 tons, from 18,769 in 2014. The price paid per ton of merlot was up by 5.5 percent, to $3,145 from $2,979.

Sonoma and Marin counties received the second highest return of $2,440 per ton, up 5 percent from 2014.

Statewide, the 2015 chardonnay price of $785.87 per ton was down 9 percent from 2014, and the cabernet sauvignon price of $1,302.74 per ton was also down 9 percent. The 2015 average price for zinfandel was $573.33, down 8 percent from 2014, while the merlot average price was down 5 percent from 2014 at $738.08 per ton.

Statewide, the 2015 crush totaled 3,862,385 tons, down 7 percent from the 2014 crush of 4,144,534 tons.

Red wine varieties accounted for the largest share of all grapes crushed, at 2,037,083 tons, down 5 percent from 2014.

Statewide, the 2015 white wine variety crush totaled 1,662,159 tons, down 5 percent from 2014. Tons crushed of raisin-type varieties totaled 92,432, down 41 percent from 2014, and tons crushed of table type varieties totaled 70,711, down 25 percent from 2014.

The 2015 average price of all varieties statewide was $667.31, down 10 percent from 2014. Average prices for the 2015 crop by type were as follows:

— red wine grapes, $783.58, down 12 percent;

— white wine grapes, $538.67, down 10 percent;

— raisin grapes, $247.52, up 6 percent,

— table grapes, $252.63, up 8 percent.

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.

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