In his 25 years as a California wine grape buyer and broker, Brian Clements has yet to see three big crops in a row. That may change this year.
“Most observers suspect average to higher production in most areas of California and across most varieties,” says Clements, vice president of Turrentine Brokerage, Novato, Calif.
At least that’s what cluster counts may be indicating.
If the main cordons are producing shoots with two clusters each, this is generally considered to signify the potential for an average size crop. This year growers and wineries are counting two to three clusters per shoot. “It looks like the 2014 crop could be at least average, if not larger, in size,” Clements says.
Growers will begin to get a better idea of this year’s production prospects after pollination, when the berries set. By the first of May the bloom was well under way in most of California’s vineyards except for the North Coast where the bloom was just starting.
Should this year’s crop be another big one, Clements looks for grape prices, for the most part, to moderate. That’s in contrast to the past two years, when increasing demand and limited supplies of bulk wine kept grape prices up. This year, there’s an ample supply of bulk wine for sale, he notes. But, it’s not enough to weaken prices for Cabernet Sauvignon which continues to enjoy strong demand from restaurants and retail outlets.
The possibility of a third-straight year of above-average production is also focusing attention on how wineries will deal with overages. In 2012 and 2013, growers were able to sell any production in excess of the amount contracted with the wineries without much difficulty. “This year, everyone is wondering how the market will handle these overages and at what price,” Clements says.
Any speculation on the size of this year’s wine grape crop, of course, has to consider the significant challenges posed by the drought. In that regard, some growers are benefiting from warm temperatures this spring. As he points out, for growers in the North Coast, every day without frost and the need to run sprinklers to protect the vines keeps that much more water available for irrigation.
“Obviously, it’s going to be an especially challenging year for growers,” Clements says. “If the weather this summer is mild, like it has been the past two years, most growers should be OK. But, if we have a hot summer, growers may find 2014 a difficult year.”