Industry struggles to get a handle on the “real” picture

Throw out the early season bunch counts, USDA’s estimates, and probably about half of what you hear in the coffee shop. What is this year’s grape crop really going to yield?

Bottom line is, no one knows for sure, and estimates are all over the board, depending on who’s doing the talking.

“Welcome to my world,” says Karen Ross, president of the California Winegrowers Association. “At our July meeting, growers were consistent in reporting the crop smaller than earlier anticipated, and they didn’t agree with the state’s official estimate, which showed an increase for Thompson seedless and a slight decrease for wine grapes.”

Many growers are projecting or reporting somewhere between 10 percent and 20 percent below average yields as harvest looms, but others are a bit more optimistic.

“I’m hearing variable reports, but harvest is just beginning,” Ross says. “It has been a wonderful growing season, so people are anticipating exceptional quality. There was freeze damage in parts of the Central Coast and the state’s dry conditions seem to have impacted yields somewhat.”

While growers may tend to report pessimistically and wineries tend to hear a scenario skewed in their favor when it comes to bargaining chips, it could be a changing playing field that’s confusing the yield issue somewhat.

“I think the key is that we may not yet have a good handle on new vineyard production,” Ross says. “A lot of the plantings from the late 90s are just hitting their full production levels. They are state-of-the-art with regard to trellising and irrigation, closer plantings, high quality rootstock, etc.”

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