Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mother Nature Smiles on the Washington Wine Industry - or Is This Just Another Cruel Joke?

Paul Gregutt was worried about the early spring in Washington wine country. Things seemed to be two or three weeks early which would subject the tender grape shoots to weeks of killing frost. As soon as April rolled around things cooled down quite a bit and we officially had bud break April 18 here in the Rattlesnake Hills, at most only six days early. The forecast is for moderate nighttime temperatures through the next week, I have never seen a grape-killing frost in the Rattlesnake Hills after April 24, so it looks like we are home free. Or are we………?

Last Winter Mutha Natured smiled on us again. Yes, Canada came to visit, but the jet stream was not really strong and the temperatures in Canada we not that cold before the event. We recorded -1o here at the winery which is one of the colder places in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA. Grapes were hardy down to -4 o to -6 o, depending on variety, so there was no damage. Looks like a great year for growers who will all have a full crop.

So what's not to be happy about? Well, the upcoming glut of grapes on the market. Winter freezes weed out new vines over old mature vines. Spring frosts damage those vines planted in lowlands where they should never have been planted anyway. The combination cuts quantity and improves quality at the same time. This year everything will produce, including those several thousand acres of new vines that people planted in order to get rich in the wine industry.

Each August the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers (WAWGG pronounced 'wag') publishes a confidential price list for growers to use in negotiating prices with wineries. It will be interesting to see what WAWWG comes up with this year. Of course, urban wineries are unaware of this publication, so they pay ridiculously high prices for grapes and that is really good for growers. They laugh out loud all the way to the bank. What with wine sales over $20 stalled, it will be interesting to see if these garagistes even crush. I had a fellow winemaker who waited for the state average price report to come from the USDA in December and that is what he paid for his grapes because it was usually lower than WAWWG. Good grapes can always be found for reasonable prices. Wineries need to balance their costs with keeping growers in business.

I just got the Wine Business Classified and there are some scary items listed for sale. For example: 250 tons 2010 Red Mtn grapes available (that is a lot of garagistes). 50,000 gallons 2009 Wahluke chardonnay available. (the ABC movement got them!). '08 barrel aged Cab, Merlot, and Syrah for sale. (Damn, production beats marketing again!).

All of this will have downward pressure on grape prices which will adversely affect growers. Time to rip out the old vinifera and plant, well, uh, plant what everyone else is planting - whatever that might be. That's what farmers do.

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