How Did 2017 Treat California Wine?

Sure, the California Grape Crush Report is a nerd magnet for the wine industry. But you don’t have to be a grape-stained winemaker or back office number cruncher to appreciate some of the trends that pop out of this year’s Grape Crush Report.

A few of the most interesting points from 2017’s preliminary report:

Those Napa grapes tough…

Napa is still the place to beat. Grape prices in California’s priciest and most esteemed wine region were up 11.5 percent in 2017, reaching $5,205 per ton. That’s almost twice as much as neighboring Sonoma, which also did well. Its $2,803 per ton was an 8.2 percent increase over 2016.

Napa Cab is king, but Franc is finer. One of the most coveted Napa grapes, not surprisingly, remains Cabernet Sauvignon, which now sells for the stratospheric average of $7,421 per ton, 9 percent more than 2016. Even more expensive was Cabernet Franc.

(Editor’s note: for an authentic drop of Napa Cab Franc, give the 2014 Conn Creek vintage a go. You’ll get a chewy, berry sensation that radiates grape maturity. And at 38 bucks, this one is robbery.)

Those who doubt its growing cachet in California should consider this: Franc fetching more than Sauv now. Its 2017 cost was $7,969 per ton in Napa, a 10 percent year-over-year increase.

White wine has seen better days

Statewide, Chardonnay’s dominance is slipping. Chardonnay is still the most popular grape variety crushed in California, accounting for 14.5 percent of the total crush in 2017. (Hey, what’s a California wine bar without its cougar juice?) But Cabernet Sauvignon is closing in on Chardonnay’s dominance, and now they’re almost neck and neck. Cab represented 14.2 percent of last year’s total crush.

And overall, white wine is fading. In 2017 the average price for all varieties of wine grapes was about $775 per ton, up 1.5 percent from 2016. Red wine grape varieties rose 4.6 percent to $962 per ton. But white wine grapes fetched only $587 per ton, down 2 percent from 2016.

This decrease isn’t the result of a glut. Yields of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were down significantly in several districts. Overall, the white grape harvest was off more than 3 percent throughout California in 2017 while reds jumped 5 percent.

The neighborhoods

Northern California grapes in general still fetch the best prices. Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino County and Lake County are the four price leaders.

Think Napa is the volume leader? Far from it. District 13, (Madera, Fresno, Alpine, Mono, Inyo Counties; and Kings and Tulare Counties) had the largest share of California’s 2017 crush, at 1,403,292 tons. But the average price per ton in District 13 was only $304, so Napa doesn’t have to worry about its quality being challenged anytime soon.

Who’s hot. Who’s not.

Guess what other grape is fading? A former pool party standby of the 1980’s and ’90s – Zinfandel – is getting less popular. The average price statewide for Zin grapes in 2017 was down 2.4 percent to $590 – hardly Bordeaux territory for California’s state grape.

And guess who is coming on strong? The Crush Report showed that Pinot Noir prices jumped sharply in all growing regions. Statewide, the price of Pinot is up more than 4 percent over 2016. The Pinot Stampede is growing. Deal with it.

(Editor’s note: aching for a delicious, yet affordable, squeeze of Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir? Check out Chalk Hill’s 2014 version. It’ll give you that classic California cherry cola, but supported by earthier undertones that give it a bit more maturity.)

2017: a year of terrible fires in California

The fires weren’t as big a deal as feared. While October wildfires in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties were reported worldwide and the visual evidence certainly looked devastating, the state’s vineyards and wineries were not significantly affected.

Overall harvest of about 4.233 million tons was in line with the previous harvest year and among the largest in the last decade. Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties account for only 12 percent of California’s harvest. And by the time the fires struck, 90 percent of the wine grapes in Napa and Sonoma and 85 percent in Mendocino were already picked and in production.

The Final Grape Crush Report comes out today at noon PST.

You may also like...