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Pendulum swinging back to Chardonnay

There appears to be some repositioning going on in vineyard replanting and grafting as growers try to anticipate the future. While California’s Chardonnay was in oversupply just two years ago, demand has rebounded while projected domestic yields have declined.

“Crop size is average or below,” says Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission. “There was shatter this spring, so clusters are loose and weights are down on most varieties. But, the amount of shatter varies among vineyards.”

Coupled with Australia’s significantly short crush due to drought, varietals that had been bulging wine tanks are now suddenly in demand.

“There has been some replanting and some vineyards have been budded over to a new variety,” Frey says. “Most conversions are Merlot or Syrah to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. There is good demand for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with new contracts being offered. Sales of Merlot and Syrah have been sluggish so far. Other varieties are in balance, although some Cabernet Sauvignon has not been sold yet. If early harvest results come in below estimate, there could be some late buying.”

Other appellations that are known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are reporting similar yield expectations, as well as shifts in demand.

“The crop is coming along,” says Jason Smith, Paraiso Vineyards, Soledad. “We’re at about normal timing now, after being behind for most of the year. I’d say yields in general are 15 percent to 20 percent below normal. Pinot Noir is more severe. Chardonnay is also down. Hames Valley has brought in a load or two. In general, harvest should start rolling the first week of September. The short crop will create a very interesting off-season in Pinot Noir, but especially in Chardonnay.”

Growers are keeping their fingers crossed as harvest begins. With mostly good growing conditions and light disease and pest pressure throughout the season, no one is complaining too much.

“We’ve seen a bit of mite pressure and some early sighting of botrytis, but nothing earth-shattering,” Smith says. “The weather has been pretty moderate, but, a heat event with our small crop could really make things crazy.”

Quality is the buzzword that’s exciting both growers and wineries this year.

“Overall, I’d say yields are down, but balanced with our canopy growth this season,” Smith says. “Balance is the key to good quality and I think from that end, wineries and consumers will be very pleased with 2007.”

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