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GL0912-UC-grape-harvest_BT_Edits.jpg UC Regents
Wine grapes are harvested in Northern California. This year’s yields could be a little above 2018 levels.

Grape harvests push toward finish line

Table, raisin grape yields expected to fall short of 2018 levels, but wine grape yields may exceed them.

Early numbers are starting to be crunched as the 2019 harvest heads toward the finish line.

Included among the first estimates was one from the California Table Grape Commission, whose grower members offer an initial assessment in April and a revised opinion in July.

“The crop estimate this year for the approximate 83,000 acres of table grapes statewide came in at 112.45 million 19-pound boxes, down from the earlier April estimate,” said President Kathleen Nave. “That figure is in keeping with average crop size reported in the 2014-2017 timeframe, but down from the 2018 final number of 115.6 million 19-pound boxes.”

It’s also lower than the earlier optimism in April (116.2 million boxes), downsized for a variety of possible reasons — perhaps the initial estimate was just an over-eager prediction; the weather over that 90-day period certainly could have been a factor as the crop came in late; it could be the vines are not packing out as heavy as anticipated, or perhaps it’s a combination of variables resulting in a 4 million box delta from the earlier to the later estimate.

“We’re generally a bit closer in our ‘guesstimates’, but the fact is there’s a smaller crop than originally predicted,” says Nave.  Whatever the reason(s), the initial estimate didn’t hold.  “We’re still anticipating a good year based on the quality of the fruit and the varietal mix coupled with the largest promotional program we’ve ever had.  Overall, it should be a good season.”

Wine grapes

When Jeff Bitter, Allied Grape Growers President/CEO in Fresno speaks, he does so on behalf of nearly 500 independent growers throughout the state. 

As harvest got underway in early August, he noted that “things change fast at this time of year, but based on bunch counts, most folks are expecting a crop similar to last year, a record 4.3 million tons of wine grapes.” So the Jeff Bitter Early Crush Report is optimistic the crop will ‘equal and possibly exceed’ the 2018 harvest.

He told Western Farm Press, “We continue to lose acreage due to natural attrition through aging and a movement away from lower-priced wines, but growers are adjusting and while central valley continues to decline, vineyard acreage in Lodi, the northern valley, and the north and central coast continues to increase with new acreage coming into production.  So while our base is pretty flat in terms of bearing acres, the newer acreage is more productive.” 

Hank Wetzel, president of the Wine Institute, the public policy advocacy association for nearly a thousand California wineries and affiliated businesses, is also optimistic.

Degreed at University of California, Davis in Fermentation Science and a co-founder of the 700 acres of owned vines at Alexander Valley Vineyards in Healdsburg, Wetzel says, “California wine shipments won’t measure up to the  percent growth in 2018 (estimated retail value of $40.2 billion) — but we’re going to continue slow financial growth with movement towards higher-prices and better-quality wines.

“Although we’re a few days later than usual, we should begin our harvest around Labor Day and are expecting an average to slightly above average crop.”

Looking further down the road, “I foresee increased export sales and growers need to be ready for that growth.”  Anticipating a bright future for central and north coast growers, he also advises, “Don’t get too confident about the increasing demand for cabernet sauvignon.  While demand for that grape variety and wine type continues to grow, I think with last year’s huge harvest, there’s going to be a short-term hiccup because wineries don’t have the room to take any more cabernet.”

Raisin grapes

USDA early predictions for 2018/2019 global raisin production forecast an increase of 1.2 metric tons as world consumption continues to rebound. Domestic production forecasts are up by 22,000 tons to 263,000 tons.

Speaking on behalf of raisin grape growers is Kalem Barserian, CEO of the Raisin Bargaining Association, who calls the California crop ‘average’ in size, “and due to reduced acreage, raisin grape varieties will be down.  2019 estimates call for 142,000 acres (versus 150,000 last year).

“That being said, we believe the natural seedless crop estimate will be 240,000 tons (plus or minus ten thousand tons) barring any weather events in September.  New crop prices have yet to be determined.”

For more news on pests, disease management and other issues affecting vineyards, subscribe to the bi-monthly newsletter The Grape Line.

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