Record Northern California 2005 Grape Harvest

Though I often find myself embracing quality over quantity in my life, I suspect that the 2005 Napa and Sonoma grape harvest will find wine collectors, futures buyers, and consumers embracing both, and snapping up as much 2005 Napa Valley and Sonoma County Cabernets and Merlots as possible.

Imagine the best wines you could ever drink at a price you’d never expect to afford. Now imagine having so much of it available to you that you could die happy, a heartily-satiated wine lover. I think life for an admirer of wine just doesn’t get any better than that. As long as you’re still embracing life, of course.

Hey, you can’t drink wine when you’re dead, right?

Even as far back as a year ago, on a wildflower jaunt to Death Valley, I thought 2005 was going to be a banner year. Multiple storms had pounded Southern California, delivering record-breaking rainfall and spawning prolific 100-year wildflower shows in Death Valley and the Carrizo Plains. But these constant heavy rains had also soaked deep into the terroir of California’s myriad expanse of grape-growing regions. I had thought at the time that winegrowers around the state would benefit from a record quantity of grapes, therefore keeping prices low for consumers. But with the consummate knowledge that California grape growers and winemakers have applied in recent years, I felt that those of us who are ardent wine fans might just enjoy a great synergy of quality, as well as quantity, from the 2005 grape harvest.

Indeed, what I suspected has become wonderful news, as you’ll see in the following story reprinted from the Napa Register.    

Napa grapes brought in more than $500 million; harvest up, prices steady, and cabernet is still the king
By L. PIERCE CARSON, Register Staff Writer Saturday, February 11, 2006 1:10 AM PST

Weighing in at a record 180,813 tons, Napa Valley’s 2005 grape crop is the largest ever harvested.

As a result, the value of last fall’s grape crush — a cool $541 million — is the largest amount ever paid local growers for prized Napa Valley grapes. Tonnage registered half again as much as the previous year’s harvest, while the average price paid for a ton of Napa Valley grapes — $2,989, the highest price per ton in the entire state — crept up a modest 2 percent last year. Pricing and tonnage information about the most recent harvest is contained in the preliminary 2005 grape crush report released Friday by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The value of Napa’s 2005 crop is estimated at more than half a billion dollars, noted Sue Brewster, an associate with industry analyst George Schofield, of St. Helena. A 54 percent increase in income for growers when compared to 2004, it also eclipses the prior record of $390 million set in 2003, Brewster added.

In a year where prices remained relatively stable, the huge increase in crop value is tied directly to “a huge avalanche of grapes,” declared Schofield, attributed to newly planted vines coming into production. “The relative short production in the four years from 2001 through 2004 — a fairly narrow range of 120,000 tons to 130,000 tons — concealed the effect of the maturing of the significant planting of vines from 1997 to 2001,” he added. “Clearly, the 181,000 tons of Napa grapes for the year 2005 brought this impact into sharp focus.”

“With this volume (of grapes), prices remaining strongly stable and a lot of people looking at quality with high regard, we may have seen the triple crown of winegrape growing,” said Napa Valley Grapegrowers executive director Jennifer Kopp after poring over the 2005 grape crush report. Kopp noted the previous crop tonnage record was set in 1997, with this year’s total coming in 21 percent higher than that.

If one looks at the revenue derived from grapes in the North Coast counties of Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino, “it comes to well over $1 billion. I think that sends a message about the value of agriculture in the North Coast,” she said. One of the largest independent growers in the North Coast, Andy Beckstoffer said he was surprised at tonnage figures. “But more exciting is that prices held,” Beckstoffer noted. “With that kind of tonnage you’d expect prices to fall. So that’s a great credit to Napa County.  “When you combine record tonnage with stable prices and outstanding quality, you get what they call in hockey a hat trick.

Facts and figures

Cabernet sauvignon remains king of the grapes in the Napa Valley, with a record 69,178 tons harvested last year. That’s an increase of 19,478 tons, or 39 percent, above the 2004 crush. The second largest planting in Napa County is chardonnay, with 33,935 tons harvested last year. That’s an increase of 10,700 tons, or a hike of 46 percent.  Merlot tonnage in 2005 totaled 31,676 — up by 9,415 tons, or 42 percent. Pinot noir weighed in at 10,181 tons, an increase of 1,906 tons, or 23 percent. America’s grape, zinfandel, saw a 22 percent increase in tonnage last harvest — 5,357 tons, up from 4,222 in 2004.

“Indeed, the results for pinot noir point out that the large increase in grape production in 2005 reflects that the year 2004 was about as far below normal as 2005 was above normal — roughly 25 percent each way,” noted Schofield. As for prices of 2005 fruit, cabernet sauvignon remains at the top of the largest planted varietals — an average of $3,970 a ton, an increase of only $17 over 2004. Also registering very modest price increases (between $20 and $26 per ton) were merlot at $2,661 and pinot noir at $2,196.

The average price paid for a ton of chardonnay continued to decline slightly. The average price last year was $2,112 per ton, a drop of $17. The price paid per ton of sauvignon blanc was $1,711, an increase of 5 percent. Other reds gaining popularity here include syrah (4,218 tons, $2,712 per ton), cabernet franc (3,706 tons, $4,125 per ton) and petite sirah (2,229 tons, $3,149 per ton).

“Due to the offsetting effect of the large 2005 crop and the short 2004 — as well as the inherent pricing economics of premium wine grapes — inordinate concern ought not to be raised about a radical price reaction for Napa grapes in 2006,” advises Schofield. “Nevertheless, prudent growers should put some of the 54 percent gain in 2005 revenue in the bank in anticipation of the next down cycle in the industry, which is certain to occur.”

Around the state

The news was also good in neighboring Sonoma County, where total grape crop revenue registered $429 million, an increase of 38 percent over the previous harvest. Grape tonnage in Sonoma is higher than in Napa by nearly 50 tons — an increase of 39 percent from 2004 to 230,000 tons. The chardonnay crop in Sonoma County is more than double Napa’s, weighing 73,241 tons in 2005. But the average price paid for chardonnay in Sonoma is well below Napa’s — at $1,581 per ton. Cabernet sauvignon tonnage in Sonoma County registers 45,399, with the average per ton price of $2,322.

Sonoma County growers received the second-highest return statewide, of $1,868 per ton, virtually unchanged from 2004.  Statewide, the 2005 crush totaled a record 4,318,083 tons, up 19 percent from the 2004 crush of 3,615,278 tons. Red wine varieties accounted for the largest share of all grapes crushed, at 2,220,096 tons, up 35 percent from 2004. The 2005 white wine variety crush totaled 1,524,404 tons, up 34 percent over the previous harvest.  The 2005 average price paid for all grape varieties was $531.65, up 10 percent from 2004. The average price paid for red grapes throughout the state last year was $634.40, an increase of 1 percent; for white grapes, $503.15, up 3 percent from 2004.

~winehiker

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