2006 Harvest Report: California Winegrape Crush Down in 2006
Defying inclement weather, winegrowers produce quality fruit
SAN FRANCISCO — Producing 90 percent of wine in the U.S., California vintners crushed 3.14 million tons of winegrapes in 2006, down 17 percent from 2005's record high crush of 3.76 million winegrape tons, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture Grape Crush Report. Though a lighter than normal harvest, the 2006 grape crush has outstanding quality and flavors. The decrease is generally viewed as positive, as it will help normalize the plentiful winery inventories by bringing the two- to three-year average in balance. The yields in 2006 were average- to above-average.
Red wine varieties accounted for the largest share of all grapes crushed in 2006 at 1,873,892 tons, down 16 percent from 2005, while white wine varieties totaled 1,262,542 tons, down 17 percent from 2005. Average statewide price for all wine varieties was $583 per ton. Chardonnay was again the leading grape crushed of the wine varieties at 549,503 tons, nearly one-fifth of the winegrape volume, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon (423,508 tons), Zinfandel (341,874 tons), Merlot (333,502 tons), and French Colombard (288,134 tons). Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris went against the trend with increases in crush tonnage, though from small bases. Pinot Noir was up 12 percent to 106,088 tons and Pinot Gris increased 16 percent to 76,867 tons.
The total harvest of wine, raisin and table type grapes was 3.49 million tons, down 17 percent from 2005. While wine accounted for 3.14 million tons, raisin grapes totaled 267,021 tons, and table type varieties were 85,533 tons. The full report is online at the USDA's website.
Unusually cool and wet spring weather early in the growing season caused a late start and finish. Warm summer heat followed by more moisture contributed to short crops and minor mildew problems in a few areas. Due to the sudden rise in temperature, harvest accelerated; varietals ripened simultaneously, creating round-the-clock work at wineries that were near capacity. A drop in temperature mid-August gave the crews a rest and pleased both growers and winemakers by permitting a longer hang-time for red grapes.
Though there were some reports of labor shortages on the North Coast, farmers coped with the lack of hands by employing machine picking and by sharing work crews. The lighter crop also allowed work crews to get the harvest in.
Winery tanks were near capacity and plenty full of 2005 wine, so the biggest issue was finding adequate tank space for what was crushed this year. However, the plentiful reserves of wine will help meet the growing consumer demand for wine in the U.S. where sales have increased each year for the last 13 consecutive years. In 2006, California wine sales in the U.S. reached another record high of 449 million gallons with a retail value of $17.8 billion.
Notes And Quotes On The 2006 Wine Vintage
Paul Dolan, partner, Mendocino Wine Company
The 2006 harvest has yielded "mature, ripe and flavored grapes without high sugars. Alcohol levels should be easier to manage from this vintage," he said. "White varietals look to be of good quality with tonnages at or slightly above average. The Pinot Noir harvest looks larger than projected, while the Zinfandel yields are running below projections."
Jon Priest, winemaker, Etude Wines, Napa Valley
"The mild weather pattern continued throughout our three-week harvest, allowing for moderately paced and deliberate ripening. The resulting wines have wonderful perfume and very good density. We are encouraged by this year's harvest and are pleased with another successful vintage."
Richard Smith, partner, Paraiso Vineyards, Monterey County
"The long growing season resulted in great flavors. The berries and bunches have sized better than we anticipated. The early and cold spring was difficult through bloom time, and the July heat spell was unusual, but tolerable in Monterey."
Mark Chandler, executive director, Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission
"Crop size this year was predicted to be off substantially from last year, but overall, we are only down about 20 percent from last year. The slowdown in home construction has helped ease the tight labor supply."
Stacie Jacob, executive director, Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance
"Quality indicators include smaller berries, long hang times and sugars that are about one to one and one-half degrees less than last year," she said. "Winemakers anticipate lower alcohol levels overall, which will be good for consumers in the marketplace. Quality of fruit on younger vines, as well as the quality of the overall region, is outstanding."
Jolaine Collins, spokesperson, El Dorado Winery Association
"Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are reported to be coming in 'right on par' in quality and quantity. No one reported anything left hanging, but many said they managed the size of the crop and dropped some fruit that experienced sun damage in mid-summer. Crop yields were reported to be a bit light so labor wasn't a problem, but high fuel costs are affecting some growers' bottom line. "
Phil Bilodeau, communications director, Sonoma County Vintners Association
Although the variable weather was challenging, the vintage was hailed as ultimately successful, with grapes coming into the wineries at full physiological ripeness and with balanced acids and flavors. The flavors, especially for Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, are reminiscent of the highly regarded 2004 vintage, although weather conditions were quite different between the two years.
Related Pages:U.S. and California Grape Crush
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