Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Grape growers in Napa Valley are expecting their biggest harvest in four years.

September 20, 2005 : Business E-mail story Print Most E-mailed Change text size
Napa Valley Grape Growers Are Seeing a Bumper Crop
From Bloomberg News

Grape growers in Napa Valley are expecting their biggest harvest in four years.

Napa Valley, the site of wineries including Robert Mondavi Winery and Beringer Vineyards as well as the winemaking estate of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, is in the midst of "the crush," as the annual harvest is known.

Farmers say their cabernet and chardonnay crops are larger than they were in 2004, and prices may exceed last year's because favorable weather has improved the quality.

"Overall, it's looking really good," said Greg Fowler, senior vice president in charge of winery operations at Constellation Brands Inc.'s Icon Estates division, which operates Robert Mondavi Corp. "If you have a good harvest, you're pretty jazzed for the rest of the year."

California's wine grape crop may yield $1.8 billion this year, according to estimates by the state and farmers. That would be the best harvest since 2001, state Food and Agriculture Department records show.

Growers sold $1.58 billion in fruit in 2004. Farmers expect to harvest 2.95 million tons of grapes this year, 6.5% more than last year.

"Mother Nature gave us a big crop," said Jon Ruel, director of viticulture for Trefethen Vineyards.

The valley produces about 4% of the state's wine grapes by weight and about 22% by dollar value. Grapes from Napa Valley cost five times the average in California because they are of higher quality.

California's grape prices may be higher than the average of $571 a ton paid in 2004, Ruel and other growers estimated. Napa Valley grapes sold for $2,936 a ton last year, according to the state. Final harvest prices will be released in February.

"It's going to be probably one of the greatest harvests ever," said George Rose, spokesman for Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, the No. 8 U.S. winemaker last year, with 12,000 acres in the state. "We're looking at a 2% to 4% increase over last year, which was a great year."

Icon Estates is paying about 10% more for its chardonnay grapes than a year ago, Fowler said. It is paying about 3% more a ton for Napa Valley cabernet grapes. Icon buys about 5,000 tons of grapes a year.

Ruel said his 500-acre vineyard would yield about 10% more than it did last year. Trefethen sells about a quarter of its crop to Napa Valley wineries, including Cakebread Cellars and Rombauer Vineyards, and harvests the rest for its own wine.

Statewide, grape prices rose 7.7% last year compared with 2003. With a similar increase this year, state growers may sell as much as $1.81 billion in grapes, the largest amount since $1.82 billion in 2001.

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