Chilled, Not Frozen
Local grape production and revenue dip, but marketing dollars keep flowing.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
After a freeze in early April, baby wine grapes shriveled into crumbly bunches the consistency of of corn flakes, according to grape growers in the Salinas Valley.
Even after the vines sprout new bunches, production on those chilled fields is expected to lag by 50 percent this year, in a blow to an industry that’s already caught in an unfortunate storm of poor weather and market conditions – and down by $65 million this year.
Wine grape revenues dropped 27 percent in 2010 to their lowest since 2003, according to the annual crop report released last week by the County Agricultural Commissioner. Weather is partly to blame for lower yields. The market rate for Chardonnay and pinot noir, the most common local varieties, were down to as little as half their historical prices.
“Two years ago, you couldn’t sell a Chardonnay grape; last year you could, but not at prices that were very sustainable for the grower,” says Jason Smith of Paraiso Vineyards in Soledad. “This year, when prices are back to what the averages should be, we get a short year.”
Cash, though, is flowing for the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association, which secured nearly $450,000 in grants to promote Monterey wines. A $250,000 award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will get Fresh Express salads and Monterey County wines into 12 East Coast grocery stores. And $198,000 from the California Department of Food and Agriculture will get new combinations of grapes into bottles in pursuit of a new terroir.
But even marketing the heck out of wines won’t get growers the maximum returns. “We simply don’t have enough wineries or tasting rooms to consume those grapes in our backyard,” says Rhonda Motil, executive director of the Growers Association.