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Wine industry pros offer reflections, predictions

‘It’s clear that where and how grapes are grown is changing,’ industry insider says.

Lee Allen

March 25, 2021

3 Min Read
Wine grapes are harvested. The 2020 grape crush totaled just under 3.6 million tons, down almost 14% from the record 2019 crush of 4.1 tons.Wine Institute

With a new season underway and 2020 -- what one California grower called “America’s newest four-letter word” -- now just another chapter in history, here’s a bit of industry reflection as we move forward.

Donnell Brown, President of the National Grape Research Alliance, summed up last season by noting: “Normal cycles of life seem to be not so normal anymore,” citing a bevy of climate conditions that growers had to deal with -- heat, cold, drought, flood,, wildfire, insect and disease migrations.

“It’s clear that where and how grapes are grown is changing,” Brown said. “The growing season starts earlier and ends later. More and more intense frosts come sooner. Heat waves linger longer.  Based on a normal past, it’s farming gone haywire.”

Brown cited several grape and wine industry publications reporting a growing drumbeat on climate change and an increasing appearance of increasingly dire headlines.

Quoted in one story was former NGRA president and now secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Karen Ross, who said the effects of the climate crisis had descended on the region sooner than anticipated.

The NGRA newsletter addressed the idea of a warming world and reported, “It’s as though 2020 was the year that climate change decided we weren’t listening and it needed to throw a massive hissy fit to get our attention.”

Brown concluded: “It’s a relief to put the 2020 growing season behind us. Every year bring another chance to do it all again, hopefully with fewer of the extra challenges that last year brought with it.”

One question answered

Initial predictions are cautiously optimistic, like that from Rob McMillan who produces the annual Silicon Valley Bank Wine Report. In closing out last year's harvest data, he noted: “This year will be remembered as the year we actually discovered the answer to the question, ‘What else can go wrong?’

“Nobody wants a repeat of 2020 where there was so much we had no control over and what we experienced wasn’t always the result of any action or inaction on our part,” he said.  “So, here we are, moving into 2021 and working around the COVID pandemic as we look for solutions to problems within our industry.

“I have no doubt we’ll survive, rebound, and maybe even thrive if we can make some adaptions in a changing marketplace.”

Allied Grape Growers President Jeff Bitter brought out the pruning shears in his annual industry address last year, calling for a large reduction in production acreage to counter a glut of grapes and bulk wine that had led to a dip in prices and grapes left on the vine.  His clarion call to pull out some 50,000 acres resulted in 30,000 acres being rouged and leaving another industry voice, Glenn Proctor of The Ciatti Company to predict: “Overall, we’re very positive about the future of the business.”

And so, another season gets underway. As NGRA’s Brown puts it: “Another chance to do it all over again, hopefully better.”

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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