Tag Archives: California wine

California Wine Production Drops Again, But …

The Golden State generates over 90% of all wine produced in the United States. So sometimes numbers have to be put in prospective. Still, the wine grape tonnage created in California for the 2015 season dropped a second year in a row, according to the just released California Grape Crush Report.California_Grape_Crush_Report-2015

We at Paso Wine Barrels keep tabs on statistics like this because it can affect our business, whether the winery crop production is high or low. Until just recently, it was difficult to find used wine barrels, because crush reports over the past few years have been high. After two back-to-back record breaking years in 2012 and 2013, wineries were leery and caused vintners to essentially hoard their used wine barrels in case the next year was the same as the last.

Drought tough to beat

Drought has gripped California for five years and that finally slowed down grape-growers who saw a dip in 2014, but still it was a very strong output. So some wine-makers relinquished their barrels, but most held steady figuring to wait one more year. That year was this past season and the grape crush is the lowest it’s been since 2011.

However, the amount of wine produced last year was average by comparison to past seasons during the 21st Century. Therefore, even though production was down 5% year-or-year, California is still the fourth largest wine producer in the world behind France, Italy and Spain – and we’re neck-and-neck with Espana. In other words, the wine is still flowing big time in sunny California.

If California was its own country, it would rank fourth in the world - maybe third - in wine production.

If California was its own country, it would rank fourth in the world – maybe third – in wine production.

Those in the industry will say that they needed a breather because there was too much bulk wine available, which can drive prices down. Yet, the world as a whole is drinking more wine, but not producing enough of what the demand wants. Hard to know for sure how that works out considering the elongated Recession is gathering up steam for another big hit economic-wise.

Chardonnay down, but not out

Although the cost of grapes in California is down a bit overall, for some varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, prices have already increased, due to very low tonnage in 2015. So yours truly tries to pinpoint wineries who concentrate on those varietals. Locally, we had bouts of shatter on the Central Coast, which significantly reduced overall grape production. Simply stated, shatter is when the young grape cluster flowers are stressed to the point they fall off the vine. We knew it wasn’t going to be a good year and last harvest offered a glimpse into the troubles we were heading towards.

Chardonnay still leads the way as the number one varietal in California.

Chardonnay still leads the way as the number one varietal in California.

A few stats of interest from this harvest report show the leader with more than one-in-six grapes is Chardonnay. Cabernet Sauvignon is still king, at least among reds, and second place in the state. By the way, Thomson Seedless was the leading varietal regarding raisin production. Well over half a million acres in the Golden State have grapes growing on them.

A final report will be out in about a month with the complete rundown of all that is known of last years grape crush. Only five other years in state’s history of wine production had higher tonnage. So yes, the crush is lighter than the previous three years, but perspective will tell you that the wine industry is doing just fine in California.

Additional source: Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia

Salute!

Daryle W. Hier

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Grape Slowdown In 2015

We wondered aloud last year if the wine-grape harvest would be smaller, but it was another good crop like the last few bumper crop years. However, this season was different in many ways, and turned 2015 into a good quality, but poor volume year. And really bad in some locations.

Shriveled_up_grapes

There are many differing ideas as to why this year fell off so much, but the logical assumption is drought, and without going into the scientific minutiae, that rational conjecture would be correct.

Looks bad

The fall off looks probably worse than it otherwise would, due to the record-breaking pace California grapes produced this current decade. 2014 actually had dropped a bit from 2013 when California had a record-breaking year. Still, last seasons harvest still produced solid numbers heading into 2015.

Conversely, this year started off with a warmer than normal end of winter and first part of spring, which brought on early budbreak for most vintners. In-turn, May was an about face, as cool windy weather locked in, making for strained and unusual fruit-set – that’s where the grape turns from being a flower into fruit. Some fruit bloomed quickly into big berries, while others barely looked like a grape and more like tiny balls.

California wine crush reports aren’t all in yet, but it is becoming obvious that the volume of grapes is way down and some instances, only a fraction of what farmers were generating the last few years. Associates and friends of mine in the industry say that although the yields were down quite substantially, quality was good and in some instances, excellent.

Vineyard-dry-fall

Volume vs Quality

And thus is the ongoing battle between having high volumes versus high quality wine production. Due to the early pollination, the grapes didn’t sit through an entire summer of blistering weather, which gave them time to produce excellent quality grapes, even if there weren’t nearly as many as usual. Harvest was early last season, but this year was even earlier, which essentially eliminated any worry regarding premature frost concerns – although El Nino has kept an early fall warmer than normal. More will be known once the grapes are fermenting.

In the meantime, winemakers will fret over their small production hoping they can make what they have, work into a beautiful vintage – which sounds possible at this point. I wonder if low end vino will suffer while higher end wines do well in this kind of climate.

The states effects on this is also troublesome, keeping valuable water from farmers so that fish can flourish. A giant El Nino would be appear to be just around the corner and it likely will help this situation. Nevertheless, something will have to be done to change the adversarial position the government takes towards farmers.

Positive view

First-Crush-vineyard-barrels

Still, this shortage of California wine might finally mean that used wine barrels will become more available and we’ll be able to enjoy availability without the high costs associated with a very tight market. You wondered if I was going to say something about this, but actually, I can’t give an exact answer yet, but we’re hoping less wine means more barrels.

So if wine quality is up and used barrels are easier to find, this could be a win win for everyone. Let’s hope so.

Additional source: California Department of Food and Agriculture

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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California Wine Sales Are Up, But Tariffs Could Change That

The news from the Wine Institute was very good with sales of wines from California up in volume and value. However, a ruling by the World Trade Organization (WTO) could put a crimp in future growth for the Golden State.

According to the Wine Institutes’ figures, California wine shipments in the United States were up 4.4% in 2014. The value of those shipments is estimated to have been $24.6 billion, which is up 6.7% from 2013. Also, domestic and international combined wine sales improved 3.7% year over year.

Though drought has made life tougher for California winemakers over the past few years, Wine Institute President Bobby Koch said:

“California has had three excellent harvests in both quantity and quality in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and these vintages are receiving global recognition.”

Oh no, Canada

Still, not all the news is good in California. The WTO sustained a ruling regarding meat-labeling rules complaint by Canada that may likely lead to a trade-war – at least in North America. The ruling that was upheld, states that both Canada and Mexico can add duty tariffs to products including wine. Exports of vino in California would suffer, so the U.S. wine industry is asking Congress to intervene.

Ironically, California wine sales topped the one billion dollar mark this past year in exports to Canada, making them the single biggest consumer of U.S. wine. However, those sales could see a tumble if the presumed taxes from Canada increase substantially.

NOTE: Congress has made a move to help winemakers in U.S. Click here for more.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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National Zinfandel Day

Until I moved to Paso Robles, I knew very little about Zinfandel. That changed when a good friend of mine taught me about the greatness of the varietal. Now, thanks in part to Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP), I and everyone else can celebrate the grape with its own day: National Zinfandel Day.

VentureVineyardAnomaly

Grown in all parts of the world, Zinfandel has a special place here in California and is considered a heritage wine of the region even though its lineage and history goes back to lands surrounding the Adriatic Sea. Croatia and Primitivo are said to be where Zinfandel came from. Even so, California Zinfandel is now planted in countries like Italy and made to taste like California wines. Most Zinfandel is produced in California, accounting for roughly 10% of all grapes grown in the Golden State.

Once used as a blend to help give body to other thinner wines, Zinfandel, or Zin as it’s commonly called, often is made as a stand alone wine. With a relatively high sugar content, it can easily have a high alcohol level and when fortified, the wine is sometimes made into port. Zin has a wide balance, so it’s a delicious pairing for almost any occasion including the holidays.

Zin has made a particular home in the Paso Robles AVA on the Central Coast of California. Thought of as the regions heritage grape, great Zins have been produced in Paso Robles due to it unique terroir and diurnal. This short clip (Paso Wine Man) shows you just what the area thinks of their wine.

So, everyone stop what they’re doing and enjoy this day long celebration. Like many wine lovers around the world know, Zinfandel is a classic American varietal and whether you’re familiar with it or not, what a better reason to have than celebrate the day with a glass of Zin.

Saluti,

Daryle Hier

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Drought Slows Wine Production, Not Quality

The 2014 California wine grape production at the start of the growing season had all the markings of a third-in-a-row huge haul for the industry. However, weather and the man above had other plans for this years harvest. And it’s not all bad.

It might not look pretty but the grapes from these vines are scrumptious.

No record third year

So many winemakers and growers told yours truly over and over again this year that they would be holding on to their extra barrels because they could see another big grape growing season. A timely spring rain helped this notion along and the industry was ready for a repeat of 2012 and 2013 – especially considering the warmer than normal spring here in California.

Still, drought, helped along by local, state and federal government over-bearing and over-regulated intervention, created a lack of water. This in-turn didn’t offer up the needed ingredient to push clusters to grow big and plump.

Tonnage appears off this year so far during harvest but the one thing that has improved is quality of fruit. The grapes are smaller, but aided in part by cooler windy weather just when vintners were ready to pick what was ready to be an extremely early harvest – and voila, the grapes had time to ripened longer on the vine, maturing into what is a high quality product. It should be noted that some wineries here on the Central Coast have reported good yields.

2014’s vintage may be one of the better years in recent memory. Several winemakers have told me that although their production is off by as much as a third, the current quality of grapes hearkens back nearly a decade ago.

Yum

What happens when the berries don’t have the usual water, they become smaller with a more concentrated flavor that usually offers up a sweeter and more powerful wine. This is good news for vintners who are sitting on quite a bit of wine right now. With this vintage being a higher quality, but lesser volume, it won’t cramp wineries with little room for this years crop; yet, creates a superior wine with better aroma and taste.

Crops are continuing to be picked and with harvest being earlier than normal this year, most of the grapes are in, destemmed and crushed. It remains to be seen how much total tonnage there will be in California – at the very least, farmers can be satisfied that 2014’s vintage will be one to remember.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Smaller 2014 Harvest? More Barrels Available?

The 2012 and 2013 grape crop production was huge and this year, many thought 2014 would bring yet an unusual third straight big vineyard haul. This is still possible but several factors that have changed the harvest process this year may reduce the tonnage for producing wine. And that may increase the likelihood of more used barrels becoming available.

California wine grapes on the vine

Wishful thinking on our part? Yes, I’m hoping for this potential bonanza of unneeded barrels, but it appears those hopes have some facts to back them up.

Leading up to 

To back up a moment, the season began with ideas of yet another larger than normal crop year. The combination of some spring rains just at the right time after another relatively dry winter, gave an early indication that production could be big again. After an earlier than normal bud break, early veraison happened in July and although that didn’t necessarily mean more and/or bigger grapes, it did offer an earlier timetable that for one, would mean earlier harvest and less chance of freezes or early Autumn rains that might create mildew.

Winemakers told us at Paso Wine Barrels that they were holding on to their neutral and used barrels in case a third-in-a-row big harvest occurred. With an earlier than normal picking period, wineries were busily processing their grapes – so we waited.

Raisin crop drying

At that same time, in the Central Valley, the raisin crop was off the vine. However, a smaller than expected yield – attributed mostly to drought and government induced water shortages – gave pause to the rest of the industry. It should be noted that farmers have been hit hard by the state and federal water regulations that have forced vintners in particular to use less water or just plain not grow some of their crops. Catch more of this insidious man-made disaster here.

Some farmers had a compressed harvest but one good spell of cooler than normal weather in August slowed harvest down for others, giving several winemakers a little break while allowing the grapes to mature, improving the quality. The little bit of rain that vineyards in the northern part of California received in mid-September was nowhere near enough or even on time to help improve growing conditions.

More barrels?

Filling wine barrel

How many barrels will be needed this harvest?

Now it appears that a lighter than normal crop set up, but with good quality grapes. Smaller berries are being reported and from a personal standpoint, I too have seen grapes from different vineyards and they appear smaller than normal. This decrease in grape crop tonnage from the past two years seems to becoming more obvious, which leads us to, well, us.

Barrels have been much harder to come by with vintners essentially hoarding them until harvest came through. I haven’t seen an abundance yet of request from winemakers to come pick up their barrels, but from all the current signs, it points to the possibility that more of the wonderful wooden casks that make our business possible, could be available soon.

I’ll let folks know as time goes on, but if we are right and a cornucopia of barrels flows our way, this will be good news for everyone who follows our little family-run company.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Cooling Slows Early Harvest

“Events will take their course, it is no good of being angry at them; he is happiest who wisely turns them to the best account.” – Euripides

Slowdown

The great Greek writer might not have been talking about wine – or maybe he was – but in any case, the quote may be profound for those vintners in California who have been frantically readying themselves for early pickings. As it appears now, an interesting turn of weather has slowed down the harvest season in wine country.

As we mentioned late last month, veraison – the process of grapes turning color – was happening earlier than it had in quite some time. This was in part due to drought and a warmer than normal spring. In-turn, farmers started moving up vineyard processes like bottling to empty barrels for the early harvest and crush. However, that frantic pace has slowed some, what with a mild summer, especially over the past month or so.

Late Spring forever?

We noticed it here in Paso Robles where it seems we’ve been in a perpetual June-type system with a little marine influence in the mornings, accompanied by clear warm days, but followed by very windy conditions in the afternoon into evening. Normally, August would be a drone of clear warm mornings together with hot, dry, hazy and calm afternoons – offering up temperatures mostly in the 90s and 100s.

Grape harvest

Such is not the case and the cooling has slowed grape ripening down to a crawl. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as experts say it’s allowing the grapes to mature, adding quality to what seems is yet, another large harvest. The past two years have brought bigger than normal yields in the vineyards of California and now a third year-in-a-row appears likely.

Whew!

The harvest season is still ahead of schedule but winemakers can catch their breath as the grapes establish their flavors. I’ve talked with some of those winemakers and the harvest is still earlier than normal but with currently more moderate weather, they are easing into the picking season, rather than scrambling.

Maybe Euripides was right and wisdom tells us that everything will happen in due course … so why not be happy. Let’s face it, the end result is more great California wine.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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