California grape highlighted during Wine Export Boom

California-wine-salesOriginal article here.

Wine production in California is becoming ever more lucrative despite a lingering drought that caused the quantity of last year’s overall grape crush to be slightly below that of 2014.

U.S. wine exports, 90 percent of which are from California, reached a record $1.61 billion in 2015 and the volume of shipments was up 4.1 percent from the previous year to 51.2 million cases, according to the San Francisco-based Wine Institute.

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Sales were humming even as the 2015 crush in California yielded nearly 3.87 million tons, down 7 percent from the 2014 crush of 4.14 million tons, noted the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s final report. Red and white wine grapes were down 5 percent, while crushed raisin-type varieties and table varieties were down 41 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

“In the scheme of things … it was still higher than it was four years ago,” Wine Institute spokeswoman Gladys Horiuchi said, adding that the 2011 crush yielded 3.5 million tons statewide.

Brisk sales — including a trend of younger consumers gravitating to higher-end wines — are a factor in increasing vineyard acreages in California, industry insiders say. The 615,000 acres of wine grapes in 2014 were up from 531,000 acres in 2009, Horiuchi said.

“Wine consumption is going up, so we’re just trying to meet consumer demand,” she said.

American wine exports saw a nearly 8 percent increase in dollar value in 2015. Our top export market was the European Union, whose purchases accounted for $622 million, followed by Canada at $461 million, the Wine Institute reported.

The increases came despite a 10 percent drop in the average price of all grape varieties in California in 2015, to $671.31 per ton, according to NASS’ Sacramento office. However, grapes from the state’s most famous regions went up in price, by 6 percent in Napa County (to $4,336 per ton) and by 5 percent in Sonoma and Marin counties (to $2,443), the agency reported.

The slightly smaller crush last summer and fall followed a 12 percent drop in tonnage in 2014 after the industry achieved record yields in 2011-2013. But producers saw the decreases coming; they actually pruned their vineyards to use less water and maximize flavor, and they’ve so far been pleased with the results in terms of quality.

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However, while wine grapes are more drought tolerant than many other crops, the recent rains will help vineyards keep going, Horiuchi said.

“It was getting to the point where they simply needed water,” she said. “With these drought years, we’ve had some pretty critically acclaimed vintages … But the rain this month is something they’re all happy to get.”

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