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"So You Think You Know California Wines? (2016) The Grape Divide: Demystifying the Economics of Wine"
“So You Think You Know California Wines” is designed to simplify your understanding by identifying growing trends, grape descriptions and the history of California wine production. The edition profiles the 27 top wine grapes and principal growing regions. The 81-page edition is idea for wine collectors, winemakers and anyone who appreciates a world class California vintage. The following are just twenty from hundreds of little known facts about California wines and the 2015 grape harvest.
1. The State of California cultivated 3.7 million tons of wine grapes during the 2015 harvest, down 9% overall from the previous year. The state’s Central Valley Region (San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno and Tulare Counties) accounted for 73% of the red wine grapes and 70% of the white wine grapes. California grows 17% more red wine grapes than white.
2. The two highest prestige growing regions are the Napa Valley and Sonoma/Marin County. The Napa Valley accounted for only 4.5% of the red wine grapes and 2% of the white. The Sonoma/Marin region accounted for 5% of the red wine grapes and 4.7% of the white.
3. The average value of Napa red wine grapes was $4646 per ton and $2,405 per ton for white grapes. In the Sonoma/Marin region, red wine grapes averaged $2,820 per ton and white grapes $2,010 per ton. In the Central Valley growing region, red wine grapes average $435 per ton and $370 per ton for white grapes. The value for Napa Valley’s red grapes is over ten and a half times and for white grapes, six and a half times more than the Central Valley. The value of the Sonoma/Marin’s regional red grapes is over six and a half times and for white grapes, five and a half times more than the Central Valley.
4. The California drought had a negligible effect on the Central Valley’s 2015 grape yields, as production nearly equaled their 2014 figures.
5. Wine grape production yields declined dramatically in the drought affected state premium wine regions. Napa Valley yields were down 29.4%, the Sonoma/Marin County region down 28.8%, the San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura County region down 29.6 and Monterey and San Benito County region down 37.8%.
6. Cabernet Sauvignon is the most lucratively priced wine grape in California and the second most cultivated. Napa Valley grape growers concentrated 59% of their red grape production into Cabernet Sauvignon, making it dangerously dependent on a single variety. The average Napa Valley ton is valued at nearly fourteen times the price of a Central Valley grown equivalent. Despite its dominance, 2015 yields were down 23-37% throughout premium wine regions. However, the value levels increased. Productions levels increased throughout most of the Central Valley with an accompanying drop in value.
7. During the 1976 harvest, Chardonnay represented less than 2% of California’s white wine grape production. In the 2015 harvest, Chardonnay was the state’s largest grown grape accounting for 38% of the white wine grapes and over 16% of the overall harvest production. Despite its dominance, 2015 yields were down 25-32% throughout premium wine regions. Productions levels increased throughout most of the Central Valley.
8. Real Estate property values are the number one price determinant in the valuation of a grape’s price. Poor or mediocre quality grapes grown on exorbitantly valued land is economic suicide for a winery. Elevated land values in Napa and Sonoma County directly reflect the significantly appreciated grape values.
9. Juice Valuation is the elemental cost of grape juice contained in a bottle of wine excluding any related post-harvest production expenses, financing costs, marketing expenses and/or retail mark-up. The 2015 juice price on a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was $8.42, Zinfandel ($4.71), Merlot ($4.35), Pinot Noir ($3.76) and Chardonnay ($3.60). Within the Central Valley region, the comparable juice prices average between 40 and 75 cents per bottle.
10. Two different topographies define the Napa Valley growing region. The Oakville flatland terrain traditionally receives more rain than the hillier Carneros sector. Napa County averages 20 inches of rainfall per year and Sonoma County approximately 31.49 inches.
11. The three-year drought conditions are far from concluded in the Napa and Sonoma County wine regions. 2016 is on track to be an above average rainfall year in the Oakville valley region, but only average so far in the Carneros region and Sonoma County.
12. During the 2015 harvest, the wine grapes that experienced the greatest production increase from 2014 included Symphony (27.2%), Barbera (13.4%), Rubired (13.4%), Pinot Gris (12%), Muscat of Alexandria (12%), Burger (10.3%) and Petite Sirah (9.2%).
13. During the 2015 harvest, the wine grapes that experienced the greatest production decrease from 2014 included Muscat Blanc (41.9%), Triplett Blanc (21%), Sauvignon Blanc (20.6%), Cabernet Franc (20.5%), Viognier (20.5%), Grenache (20.1%), Chenin Blanc (19.4%) and Syrah (18%).
14. Three of over thirty hybrid cross bred grape creations introduced by University of California, Davis viticulturist Dr. Harold Olmo represent 17% of the red wine grape and 2.3% of white wine production. Rubired, Ruby Cabernet and Symphony are used primarily as blending or bulk wines and grown almost exclusively in the Central Valley regions.
15. During the 1976 California grape harvest, nearly twice as many red grapes were harvested than white.
16. During the 1976 harvest Carignan, Grenache, Barbera and Ruby Cabernet were amongst California’s most popular red grapes. Carignane accounted for 19.7% of the red wine grapes and 13% of the overall harvest. Grenache accounted for 15% of the red wine grapes and 10% of the overall harvest. Barbera and Ruby Cabernet accounted for 12% of the red wine grapes and 7.9% of the overall harvest.
17. By 2015, Ruby Cabernet’s ranking had dropped to eighth, Barbera to ninth, Grenache to tenth and Carignan to thirteenth among red wine grapes.
18. During the 1976 California wine harvest, the French Colombard grape accounted for 45% of the white wine grapes and15% of the overall harvest. Chenin blanc accounted for 24% of the white wine grapes and 8% of the overall harvest.
19. In 2015, French Colombard’s ranking dropped to second in white wine production but still comprised 20% of the white grapes. Chenin blanc ranked ninth and only 2% of the white grape harvest. Both grapes combined account for less than 1% of the Napa Valley and Sonoma/Marin County output. In most growing regions, both grapes are used primarily for bulk wines or blending.
20. Production statistics become significant since growing decisions are oriented around evolving consumer tastes. Immediate cultivation adjustments are impossible. Grapevines require three years after planting before yielding fruit and have an average lifespan of 27 years. Many vines are replaced after this period due to declining production yields and financial depreciation considerations. If the production of a specific grape begins a steady decline, it is likely to continue so for an extended period. They are incrementally replaced by more lucrative or drought resistant grape varieties.
"SO YOU THINK YOU KNOW CALIFORNIA WINE? Demystifying the California Wine Industry and Coming Economic Decline (2015)"
“So You Think You Know California Wine? Demystifying the California Wine Industry and Coming Economic Decline” is a photographic edition portraying the beauty and landscape of the northern California wine region during each stage of the annual wine harvest. Photographer Marques Vickers 80+ images captures the diversity of the vineyard terrain and majesty of the individual vines from his artist perspective.
The photography is supplemented by his observations and projections regarding the 2014 final grape crush report released on March 10, 2015 by the United States Department of Agriculture, Pacific Field Office. Vickers addresses the three most strident issues: water, real estate value levering and overproduction that peril the continued stability of the industry.
The 2014 Napa Valley harvest may ultimately prove a benchmark before the reality of the California drought radically affects the region’s yields. The harvest was the second largest and most lucrative in the history of the Napa Valley region bringing in a 9% value increase from 2013. By contrast, the state of California’s overall production shrunk 8.3% and valuation rose less than 1%.
Vickers elaborates on what is going on within Napa that is eluding the majority of the State’s wine regions.
Despite the continued effects of severe drought conditions, the 2014 harvest may ultimately emerge as the finest year of the decade due to the smaller and more concentrated berry sizes, creating greater flavor complexity. What distinguished 2014 from the current year conditions has been the timely rains and seasonal heat spikes.
As water sourcing becomes the new alchemy within the Napa Valley and throughout California, aggressive deep water well drilling for underground sources is creating a potential for economic, liability and ecological catastrophe. The depletion of underground sources and storage reserves may prove necessary for short-term coverage caused by the continuing drought and overproduction. Longer-term implications such as stricter water rationing and production moratoriums may inhibit continued growth and elevate pricing.
Will fine wine palettes and consumers foot the bill at the marketplace?
Vickers writings elaborate beyond the traditional marketing rhetoric and hype both Napa’s production success and California’s decline during 2014. More poignantly, the results from the grape crush report identify significant production trends taking shape regarding emerging drought resilient grapes and increasingly out-of-favor Zinfandel and Merlot varietals. Based on the immediate economic threats and absence of nimbostratus (rain) clouds, a major financial correction appears eminent.
Vickers’ “So You Think You Know California Wine? Demystifying the California Wine Industry and Coming Economic Decline” edition is a straightforward guide for wine enthusiasts to understand the complexities of a wine harvest and outstanding visual overview of one of the most renown wine regions internationally.
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