Saturday, April 6th: Wildflower Hike & Wine Tasting at Picchetti Ranch

When you enter Picchetti Winery’s rustic tasting room, you take a welcome step back in time.

When you enter Picchetti Winery’s rustic tasting room, you take a welcome step back in time.

4 easy miles with options for additional mileage; early Spring wildflowers

Meet: 9:30 a.m.
Hike: 9:45 a.m.
Duration: approximately 3–4 hours
How to confirm your attendance: Simply add a comment at the bottom of this post.*

Picchetti Ranch & Winery
13100 Montebello Road
Cupertino, CA
(650) 691-1200

After a short drive up a winding mountain road, Picchetti Winery appears as a little slice of heaven. Picchetti wines are produced at one of the oldest wineries in California, and are well-made, with attention devoted to producing consistently good wines every year. Plus, it is one of the rare few California wineries that offers a hiking trail right outside the tasting room! If you haven’t yet tried the 2007 Leslie’s Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Picchetti Winery, this event is your opportunity to try a world-class winner.

The Zinfandel Trail winds through a cool forest of bay laurel.

The Zinfandel Trail winds through
a cool forest of bay laurel.

The hike is an easy and enjoyable walk. We’ll journey through a classic local mix of cool woodlands and sunny chaparral, with views of Fremont-Older Open Space Preserve and Stevens Creek Reservoir. From the trail, we’ll see an assortment of plant communities ranging from lush chaparral brush and oak woodland to picturesque madrone and bay forests. We’ll even see a stand of nutmeg trees! And if we’re lucky, we’ll see several species of wildflowers blooming along the Zinfandel Trail.

After the hike, let’s enjoy a potluck lunch on the Picchetti picnic grounds, pool a few pesos, and taste those fabulous Picchetti wines.

Here’s a Google map showing the route from San Francisco to Picchetti Ranch that includes driving directions. As you get close, the following tips may prove helpful:

  1. Hiking the Zinfandel Trail is always a fun group experience.

    Hiking the Zinfandel Trail is always
    a fun group experience.

    Once you reach Cupertino and are traveling southwest on Foothill Blvd. (with Highway 280 behind you), be aware that when you cross the Stevens Creek Blvd. intersection at the signal light, Foothill Blvd. will change its name to Stevens Canyon Road.

  2. As you continue through a residential section, Stevens Canyon Road will begin to climb and wind and you will pass lower Stevens Creek County Park, then Stevens Creek Dam and Reservoir, all on your left.
  3. Around a bend to the right and immediately after passing the entrance to the quarry (on your right), the road will make a horseshoe turn to the left and the steep entrance to Montebello Road will appear pretty quickly on your right.  A good place to gear down!
  4. Wind your way carefully up Montebello Road about 0.6 mi. and enter Picchetti Ranch on your left. Take the immediate right fork and park in the upper (dirt) parking lot, and look for my black Dodge Dakota pickup and camper shell. It’s likely you’ll see me sitting on the tailgate lacing my boots.

If you’re coming from the South Bay, I’ll see you when you arrive at Picchetti Winery. For those of you arriving from The City or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling.

Inside the Picchetti tasting room.

Inside the Picchetti tasting room.

Parking at Picchetti Ranch is free. Drive time from downtown San Jose may take 20-25 minutes; from SF, perhaps 20-30 minutes longer. Please allow adequate time to arrive by 9:30; our hike will begin promptly at 9:45.

Parking should be adequate at Picchetti; nevertheless, I urge hikers to please carpool if possible (see above). Dogs are not allowed on this hike.

For our post-hike potluck lunch, I recommend preparing picnic items that you will enjoy sharing with your fellow hikers. You won’t have to bring your potluck items on the trail; instead, pack them into a cooler that you’ll keep in your car during the hike.

Picchetti peacocks: a sure sign of Spring!

Picchetti peacocks: a sure sign of Spring!

Nevertheless, be sure to bring plenty of snacks and water for the trail. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. Please allow plenty of time to arrive, and watch for cyclists during your drive.

Also, wear sturdy shoes for this hike – we may be hiking over rough terrain in places, and sections of muddy trail may present themselves.

The phone number above is for the Midpeninsula Open Space District.

Meet 9:30 a.m., hike 9:45 sharp.  See you at the trailhead!

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Would you like to attend this hike?
If so, let me know you’re coming: simply reply in the Comments box below.

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*Your comment on this post is your RSVP. Consider also checking the box labeled “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” so that I can share my cell phone number with you a few days prior to this hike – just in case you need to contact me on your way to the trailhead.

This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.



Flickr Photo Download: The 2006 Township 7 Cabernet Sauvignon

The 2006 Township 7 Cabernet Sauvignon by winemaker Bradley Cooper.

Winemaker Bradley Cooper of Penticton, British Columbia, produces exquisite wines from the south Okanagan Valley, including this delicious handcrafted small-lot Cabernet, of which he made 752 cases.

I simply adore this wine’s cherry, coffee and cola overtones, especially when enriched by a broad silkiness on the palate and an enduring finish that will cause you to delay brushing your teeth too soon. Lovely with red meats or on its own, here’s a special, affordable Township 7 Cabernet that you should be drinking.

Price: $25.99 per bottle / $311.88 for case of 12
Heat: 13.9% ABV
Where to purchase: contact the winery.

Disclaimer: this bottle was a sample, stolen fair and square from the winemaker when he wasn’t looking. ;^)

Vino Locale’s local blend of the Silicon Valley good life

If I was to combine the best of the European sense of community with Silicon Valley sensibilities, I would present healthy, well-prepared foods and fine locally-made wines in an atmosphere that promotes easy relaxation and stimulation of the senses, and have it all be very affordable. And to top that off, I’d want passion and education to be a part of the mix.

Thank goodness I don’t have to do that now, because it’s just what Randy Robinson has done with Vino Locale of Palo Alto, California.

Randy Robinson's Vino Locale, in downtown Palo Alto.On the surface, Vino Locale is what its Italian name implies – a purveyor of local wine. But it’s so much more than just a cozy little nook off a major Palo Alto thoroughfare. What it’s not is a typical wine bar, restaurant, or bottle shop. With artisanal cheeses, breads, and meats, a fine selection of wines lining the shelves – all produced within a 100-mile radius – plus local artists’ crafts on the walls and a Victorian house to show it all off in, Randy’s got something worth waxing passionate about.

A buddy of mine, Mike Grey of Blue Yuki Photography, joined me last evening for what promised to be a fun affair at Vino Locale; we had been intrigued by a posting on for an event that offered a tasting of five wines for $5. But the price of this tasting was not the intriguing part. What was intriguing was that for those five bucks, we’d get to taste three components of a Bordeaux-style blended wine, next taste the blend of those three components, and lastly contrast that blend with an actual wine from Bordeaux.

It turned out to be the next best thing to blending the wine ourselves.

For me, it would be an exercise not only in tasting wines made within mere miles of my front door, but also an opportunity to guess the proportions by which Randy concocted his blend. So, after a nice repast of Westphalian Ham, Buendnerfleisch, Danish Salami, Dijon mustard, sliced baguette, a cheese plate nicely strewn with a fine mix of blue and dried cheeses and fruits, all of it liberally dosed by Vino Locale’s friendly and generous wait staff*, Mike and I visited Randy’s tasting table and held out our glasses.

We first tried a Cabernet Sauvignon from Solis Winery of Morgan Hill, which was laden with blackberry flavors and a toasty oakiness that I found quite favorable. Randy then poured one of my local favorites, a Cabernet Franc from Burrell School Vineyards of Los Gatos (see my recent post about a Burrell School winehike). I love the lush cherry fruit in this wine, which is distinctly different and much less acidic/tannic than any other locally-made Cab Franc that I’ve tried. And though they’re no longer pouring this particular Cab Franc at Burrell School’s tasting bar, I was glad to see plenty of it on Randy’s shelves.

Next came a Merlot pour, also hailing from Burrell School, its sensuous cherry flavors and mouthwatering textures making a fine stand-alone Merlot (I came home with a bottle of this one, my palate – but not my budget – having been won over at Burrell School earlier by their Zins and Syrahs.)

Now it was time to taste Randy’s hand-decanted Bordeaux blend. And right away, I appreciated his touch. While very smooth and round with texture, flavor, and finish, this blend eschewed pretense and instead seemed entirely distinct from each of its components. A well-rounded balance of acid and fruit suggested complexity and an expert integration of berry and slight earth flavors not entirely obscuring the Burrell School cherriness. I savored its finish, and made a mental note: “Do try this at home.”

A follow-up taste of a $10 Bordeaux purchased at a local Trader Joe’s was an anticlimactic contrast lacking in all but earthy aromas and flavors. Obviously the focus was the local blend.

I sensed Randy was about to divulge the formula for his tincturing, and I politely interrupted, wanting instead to hazard my own guess. I estimated 40-45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30-35% Merlot, and the remainder Cab Franc. Apparently my palate guessed pretty close to the actual blend proportionality, which Randy pronounced as being 2 parts Cab. Sauv., 2 parts Merlot, and 1 part Cab Franc.

I instantly was no longer intrigued. Instead, I was hooked on the idea of attending more of Randy’s fun approaches to local wine, art, and produce. And you can bet I’ll be blending a few upcoming winehiking tours with visits to Vino Locale in the year ahead.


*If you should visit Vino Locale, please tell Randy I sent you to try the Fleming-Jenkins Rosé of Syrah.


Pricing and Availability for WS Top 10 Wines

A little less than 72 hours ago, the Wine Spectator announced its 2006 Top 100 List. Since then, prices have fluctuated for some of the list’s top ten wines, though not all of them. Most of these wines are still available as of this writing, though possibly in limited supply; two are not available online or from the winery. (However, you might get lucky if you know which restaurants still serve them.)

In the following list, the WS$ column shows the price listed in Monday’s announcement for each of the Top 10 winning wines. The Avg. $ column shows today’s average price based on a search of the inventory on and

Some of the price differences are staggering, others are negligible. Assuming demand is proportional to placement on the win list relative to all 100 wines on the list, then scarcity of supply may be the driving factor behind the current price.

Average prices since WS Top 100 announcement WS $ Avg. $
1. 2001 Casanova Di Neri Brunello Di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova 70 64
2. 2003 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 85 282
3. 2003 Chateau Leoville Barton St. Julien 75 160
4. 2003 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Puente Alto Don Melchor 47 47.49
5. 2003 Domaine du Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Reserve 70 79.99
6. 2003 Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey Sauternes, 375ml 45 27.97
7. 2004 Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 38 *
8. 2003 Kongsgaard Napa Valley Chardonnay 75 **
9. 2004 Brancaia Toscana Il Blu 70 75
10. 2004 Two Hands Shiraz Barossa Valley Bella’s Garden 50 62.65

Conclusion: by the time you read this, you probably won’t be able to find any of these wines, with the possible exception of auction houses such as (see their current auction on the Casanova di Neri, for instance); no doubt prices will be higher there if there’s any inventory at all. Then again, if you’ve got your own inventory and want to dump some or all of it, you might just fetch a nice return on your investment here.

Gee, could that be the reasoning behind the judging of 13,500 wines?

*From the Kosta Browne website: Since our production is limited, we currently have a wait list, which is sorted chronologically by the person’s date of registration. As quality allows, we intend to increase production levels so that we can offer introductory allocations to those on our wait list in the order of wait list placement. We plan to announce our next Mailing List offering (our 2005 Appellation Wines) on February 6, 2007.

**From the Kongsgaard website: The wines are sold through an online mailing list offering in June of each year for shipment in October, and in fine restaurants around the world.


Wine Review: The Amazing and Affordable 2001 Lindemans Pyrus

17.5 winehiker points*

Last month, my friend Kim passed along a personal wine recommendation to myself and to my friend Vindu. Vindu was the first to respond, saying:

Kim and Russ,

Finally found the 2001 Pyrus in my local Trader Joe’s today. Bought a bottle, cracked it open. OH. MY. GOD. It’s the most awesome $8 red I have ever tasted. Smooth like a Bordeaux blend, yet complex and with a nice warm finish. Low acidity, just pure grape perfection.

I’m going back tomorrow for a case. At least.


Having tasted a fair amount of wine in the company of both friends, I figured I didn’t need to be told a third time. In fact, Vindu’s palate often appears to be similar to mine in that he tends to like many of the same flavor and body profiles that I do, plus he and I tend to vote the same group picks at tastings.

I high-tailed it over to Trader Joe’s after a recent local hike. You never know how fast word can spread, and I wanted to make sure I got at least one bottle before this $8 gem was all gone. I arrived at the Los Altos store, scanned the wine aisle, and though I did find some Lindeman’s wines, I didn’t find any Pyrus. The help staff made a call on my behalf to the Sunnyvale store where, sure enough, they had about 18 bottles on hand. A few minutes later, I walked out of that Sunnyvale store with 4 bottles of promise in my hands.

The 2001 Lindeman's Pyrus -- no decanting necessary, just drink it if you can still find it.

The 2001 Lindeman’s Pyrus — no decanting necessary, just drink it if you can still find it.


The 2001 vintage of Lindeman’s Pyrus, from the Coonawarra region of Australia, is a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, and 7% Cabernet Franc, and wholly drinkable right out of the bottle. It’s violet color in the glass is pleasing, and so are its immediate berry, cherry, and slight tobacco aromas. There’s even a slight hint of gold in the wine’s color, suggesting that the wine has aged nicely.

On balance, this wine is solid, with a mildly spicy sweetness and an acid/tannin structure that rocks steady. While smooth in body, presumably from the presence of the Merlot, it’s texture on the tongue is not entirely stellar, though it’s mighty close. With the Pyrus’ moderate fruit complexity, rounded balance aspects, medium-full body, and crowd-pleasing finish, I’d say that this wine is an excellent one to tell your friends about.

Thanks, Kim!

But you might just want to keep the Pyrus to yourself as a very well-made and affordable bottle of Bordeaux-style wine for everyday drinking. You better hurry, though — the way my buddy Vindu is buying this stuff, it’s flying off the shelves at Trader Joe’s.

Yep, Vindu has four cases already. And incidentally, Vindu’s got a friend in Australia who laments the current price of the 2001 Pyrus in the Land Down Under to be over $40 a bottle. Good enough reason to stock up now.

$7.99 at Trader Joe’s
Disclosure: I soon after purchased a case of this wine myself from Trader Joe’s. At this price, how could I not?

Also see guest author Vindu Goel’s follow-up post, Pyrus vs. Pyrus: Is the Lindemans Pyrus 2000 better than the 2001?

*Rated on the 20-point Davis scale.


Bad wine, maybe, but good camp shower

Reuse, recycle. Party down, clean up. Novel idea!

Reuse, recycle. Party down, clean up. Novel idea!

I’ve just got to laugh at the ingenuity of bright minds. Along with how to make a Five-Cent Wedding Band and How to Get a Free Yacht, the Instructables collaborative website suggests that we can recycle empty wine bladders from boxed wines by turning them into solar showers that we can use to stay clean while we’re camping.

And that’s just one use. How about an inflatable pillow? A Camelbak-style water bladder? A sleeping bag insulator for homeless people? At the Instructables website, you can even find out how to clean a box-wine bladder and “get the funk out.”


Cheers for under fifteen clams

I discovered the following article online tonight and, just for ducks, thought I’d share it with my bloggership. From my own research, I’ll have to agree with the author’s opinion that “more good-quality, low-cost wine is available to consumers now than at any point in history.” The notion that he’ll consider food/wine pairings sure catches my attention.

Perhaps Mr. Shriver will next scope out wineries within proximity of hiking trails! I hope you’ll enjoy reading his brief article.

USA TODAY With summer on the horizon and wine lovers beginning their search for bargain bottles that can be enjoyed for a season’s worth of casual entertaining, now seems like a good time to announce a new feature at USA Today.

On Friday, we will launch a wine blog on called Cheers. Every day, I’ll post a recommendation of a bottle that costs $15 or less in stores and that is available in most major markets. Working with wines I encounter in trade tastings, wine-judging competitions, restaurants and bottles I buy on my own, plus samples sent by wineries, I’ll sort and select the ones that stand out from the crowd.

The idea is to test the oft-repeated assertion that more good-quality, low-cost wine is available to consumers now than at any point in history. I think this is true, given advances in technology and the entrance of many more wine-producing nations on the world stage, but I really won’t know for certain until I take an in-depth look. I’ll describe what the wine tastes like, and sometimes I’ll suggest an accompanying dish. As always, I’ll be looking for character: A Cabernet should taste like a Cabernet, even at $9.


When it pops, it’s really gonna pop!

The continual March rains have hit the west coast and made a firm down payment on April. But sooner or later, Spring is finally going to arrive, and when it does, I have a feeling that California’s many species of wildflowers will unleash themselves in a colorful eye-popping frenzy much like last year’s record show.

In the meantime, the weather hasn’t kept me off the trail, no sir. In fact, I must consider myself lucky, in that I’ve somehow managed to schedule my winehiking days when there’s been a brief lull in the storm pattern.

Last Saturday was one of those days. I met a group of winehikers in Santa Clara down by the university and drove them to Henry Coe State Park, the humongous 87,000-acre natural area so close to us here in the Silicon Valley, and yet seemingly so far away when you walk its trails.

A view to the southeast from Henry Coe State Park's Flat Frog Trail.

A view to the southeast from Henry Coe State Park’s Flat Frog Trail.

Our group was happy to enjoy the path that leads northward from the Visitor Center up toward Eric’s Bench for a nice blend of oak, yellow pine, bay, and manzanita forest along with a scant few wildflowers in filaree, hound’s tongue, buttercups, and a scattering of shooting stars. Returning from the Little Fork of the Coyote River via Flat Frog Trail, a single-track trail that can often showcase the park’s best wildflowers, we realized that Spring had not yet descended upon the area, but that some of the flowers just can’t wait!

In the sparse forests and grassy meadows of Flat Frog Trail, crossing over many small seasonal streams, we saw many more shooting stars, lupines, and milkmaids, and out on the grasslands approaching the Manzanita Point Road, we saw violets, popcorn flower, many more buttercups, as well as one of my all-time favorites, the fleeting red maids.

I think it’s a simple bet that when we get a string of a few good days of warm sunshine, we’ll start seeing the likes of checker lily, chinese houses, larkspur, blue-eyed grass, and Ithuriel’s spear. I’m almost counting on it. But I’m monitoring the weather reports too.

Meanwhile, Coe Park had borne a foot of snow only 8 days before our tour, and it had left its mark along the contours of Flat Frog Trail. We must have stepped over or circumvented no less than 10 downed trees – pines, manzanita, madrone – there was almost no steep hillside that didn’t show Nature’s depradations. The trees just weren’t used to holding all that snow in their branches.

If I can have moments like this one, I'll want to have a million more.

If I can have moments like this one, I’ll want to have a million more.

Not yet satisfied after our stroll, my intrepid winehikers and I drove back down to Morgan Hill for a catered lunch at Pedrizzetti Winery, where tasting manager Stacie poured us her wares. It was warm and sunny enough to eat outside and be comfortable, so we enjoyed our feast of fruits, cheeses, salad, bruschetta, pasta marinara, and my personal favorite of the meal, charbroiled chicken with a nice garlicky sun-dried tomato cream sauce. I doff my Aussie hat to Darlene at Golden Oak Restaurant of Morgan Hill, who put on the spread. Of course, Stacie took care of us by pouring cabernet, chenin blanc, and a very light and delectable sparkling wine.

Ah, this winehikin’ stuff is fun. And the season is still young!


Feedback from Sunday’s post

Since I posted “Record Northern California 2005 Grape Harvest” last Sunday evening, I’ve received some great feedback and commentary. People from all over, whether they know and enjoy wine or don’t consume wine whatsoever, have written this week to share their thoughts. I thought I’d share them with you.

“Russ, interesting article. Although we are not a wine consuming family, other members of the extended family are. I knew the weather is one of the factors (or many) in winemaking and prices. I never realized how many tons of grapes went into making the wine for people to enjoy. I used to drink Manischewitz wine when I married my ex; [it] was extremely sweet. Thanks for enlightening me.”
– Sheryl R., Norwich, CT

“I’ll be keeping my eyes out for ‘05 from Napa and Sonoma!”
– David C., Boston, MA

“Russ – am printing this off for my husband. We have friends that live in Tracy….I think I know where we will be going to recover from our daughter’s wedding!”
– Gisela S., Phoenix, AZ

“We watched Sideways the other night and loved it. We’ve always enjoyed wine but didn’t know much about it. I plan to read this in greater depth while on the road in New York.”
– B. Bissell, Schroeder, MN

“Now that I’m actually interested in wine, I regret not being in California anymore.”
– Michelle Y., Minneapolis, MN

“This is awesome news for a budding wine enthusiast on a budget!”
– Marjy L.

“I will still continue to drink French wine, but I may change!!!”
– Francois Arlabosse, Louveciennes, Paris, France

“A dream trip of mine is to visit Napa Valley and be able to experience first hand what winemaking is all about. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I had a wonderful Merlot last evening that was organically grown in Napa Valley. Wonderful….”
– Colleen N., Clinton, IA

“Great news! When will we start seeing the better prices?”
– Diana R., Minneapolis, MN

“Hey, where do you stand on Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chuck? Worse than Boone’s Farm?”
– Carol V., Wellston, MI


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.