Third party inspections balance playing field

Growers want a good deal for the grapes they’re growing. Wineries want a good deal for the grapes they’re buying. It’s often one interest versus another’s — unless everything is in-house.

Perhaps it’s time to call in the referees.

Third party inspections can benefit both growers and wineries, but reason and responsibility should apply to the process, according to Nat DiBuduo, president of the Fresno-based Allied Grape Growers.

“I think this is a very important topic for wine grape growers in the state that are subject to third-party inspection, he says. “That’s about two-thirds of the crush. The cost of the inspection service is split between the growers and wineries. We’re just getting into harvest and growers need to know what their rights and responsibilities are as we go into the 2007 harvest.”

Third-party inspection services check for sugar levels (Brix). They check for material-other-than-grapes (MOG) and for total defects, including mold, mildew, and rot. Wineries, on the other hand, tend to look at raisining, stress, and sunburn, according to Allied Grape Growers’ Viticulturist Emilio Miranda, who is also a member of the State Inspection committee.

It’s a give-and-take process and one that has become much more economically significant with each year’s crush — and the corresponding crush on growers when it comes to marketing their grapes.

Average grape prices for the Lodi region are down nearly $200 per ton from a decade ago, according to the Lodi District Grape Growers Association's 2007 Crush Report. Similar pricing statistics exist throughout California, according to DiBuduo.

“Prices are down statewide for many varieties and appellations, not just Lodi,” he says. “It’s a sad state of the industry to see prices going down while costs of farming have been increasing. The decline has been due to an increase in supply both domestically and internationally, with imports affecting U.S. growers’ prices and demand.”

It’s certainly not all doom and gloom, though.

“We’re seeing an increased interest lately by some wineries that have been out of the market,” DiBuduo says. “Prices are leveling off and in some cases we see strengthening in both prices and terms being offered. One major winery appears to be buying fewer grapes in 2007, but others may pick up the slack. This year may still turn out to be better than 2006 because of increased production per acre and stable — although not high — prices.”

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