Prospects for wine grape growers are better than they have been in several years. However, most in the industry are quick to urge against irrational exuberance going forward.
“Every time the grape price goes up, growers tend to overcorrect, rush out and plant a lot of grapes, says Matt Turrentine, broker with Turrentine Brokerage, one of the state’s leading wine brokers. “Historically, the industry as a whole has done a poor job of planning around these cycles.”
With a little bit of optimism on the horizon, that situation could very well unfold again.
“Wineries have come out with some very interesting prices for Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and even Merlot,” says Nat DiBuduo president of Allied Grape Growers. “Prices, in all cases, are higher than last year and there appears to be competition among wineries - something we haven’t seen in some time. That might indicate wineries are also concerned that growers may have removed too many vineyards and replaced them with other profit producing crops. As I’ve stated before, you can’t make very much good wine out of almonds! The North and Central Coast growers have also seen pretty good winery interest and buying activity. In many cases, prices have even gone up after the initial offering. Overall, it seems like things are getting better.”
That doesn’t mean DiBuduo or Turrentine are advocating planting grapes from fencepost to fencepost. The wine grape growing industry still has one foot on a banana peel or at least a memory of what can happen when every grower jumps on the same bandwagon.
“We need to have another average crop to truly see the recovery for growers that we need,” DiBuduo says. “We do not want or need to see speculative uncontrolled plantings as we saw in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. However, we could use a few quality vineyards of the right variety, in the right areas with the right winery contracts.”