California Vintners Predict High Quality And Quantity For 2005 Wine Harvest
SAN FRANCISCO November 14, 2005 - The dominant theme for the 2005 California winegrape harvest was high quality and quantity, a rare and fortunate combination, as vintners around the state all described the incoming fruit as "outstanding," "exceptional," and "plentiful." State Agriculture officials estimated the harvest at 3.15 million tons of wine type grapes in October, which would make it the second largest crop ever for California behind the record 3.32 million tons harvested in the year 2000.
"This year's crop yields are generally 10-15 percent larger than normal, produced from a cool year that is being compared to the outstanding 1997 vintage," said Robert Steinhauer, consulting viticulturist for Foster's Wine Estates Americas who is finishing his 39th harvest in California's wine industry this year. Steinhauer provided a statewide summary of the 2005 winegrape harvest at Wine Institute's Vintage Press Conference at Fort Mason in San Francisco last week. The event also featured an update on wine policy issues by Wine Institute President and CEO Robert P. (Bobby) Koch, followed by comments by Institute Board Chairman Eric Wente of Wente Family Estates in Livermore. A panel of Wine Institute board members and winemakers shared details of the harvest in wine regions throughout California during the question and answer session.
The long, cool growing season was perfect for developing grapes with "good maturity and flavors, with sugar levels coming in slightly lower than past vintages," said Steinhauer. It was also a slow ripening season that contributed to the quality of the fruit, and the resulting wines should have elegance and balance.
The cool weather, larger crop size and lateness of the harvest had everyone anxious for months about getting the crop into the wineries before the winter rains. Fortunately, a few late season rains didn't affect the tough-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon, usually one of the last varieties to ripen, and most of the grapes have been picked. Harvest should generally be complete statewide by mid-November.
The 2005 year started with rains in the spring and early summer, creating vigorous vine growth and potential mildew pressure. New viticultural techniques and innovations in how vineyards are planted now help curb these concerns. For instance, winegrowers, working in tandem with winemakers, manage water and fertilization through drip irrigation systems and cover crops, and more handwork in the vineyards, trimming the shoots, leaves and fruit, help mitigate the vine vigor. Along with proper canopy management, new trellising systems allow more air circulation and sunlight to control mildew pressure, and vine row orientation also takes advantage of the best wind and sun exposure. The combination of cutting-edge viticulture and the artistic skills of the winemakers, allow the grapes to reach their full expression in the glass.
With plenty of wine in the pipeline from this year's harvest, consumers will find many excellent choices on the retail shelves, beginning with the early release white wines for 2005 available in February/March and most of the reds in 2007. The large harvest is needed, as U.S. wine consumption has increased every year for the past 11 consecutive years, from 449 million gallons in 1993 to a historic high of 668 million gallons in 2004. This trend appears to be continuing. California wine shipments to all markets through August, 2005, the latest figures available, were up 3.6 percent over the previous year, according to industry analysts Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates. California's share of the U.S. market was 64 percent last year, and the retail value of the state's shipments to the U.S. is estimated at $15 billion.
"Though global competition is fierce on the retail wine shelves, the excellence and large size of this 2005 vintage is setting the stage for continued expansion of the California wine industry," said Bobby Koch. "New opportunities are unfolding for wine. With the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last May helping to open more states to direct-to-consumer wine shipments and the historic U.S.-E.U. wine trade agreement creating a more fair and stable trading environment, California wine will reach more consumers than ever before."
Eric Wente concurred on the need for a good wine supply. "The U.S. wine market is robust and underlying consumer trends show that wine's popularity is growing," said Wente. Although beer outsells wine by volume, a July Gallup poll indicated that 39 percent of U.S. drinkers consume wine most often, while 36 percent say they usually drink beer.
The California wine industry plays a significant role in the state. Supplying more than 90 percent of U.S. wine, California is the number one wine-producing state in America, making the U.S. the fourth leading wine-producing country in the world after France, Italy and Spain. California winegrapes rank in the top five farm products in the state with nearly $1.6 billion in returns to winegrape growers. The state's wine industry has an estimated $45.4 billion economic impact on California and generates 200,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the state. Wine Institute is the public policy advocacy association of 862 California wineries.
Governor Schwarzenegger has proclaimed September 2005 as the official "California Wine Celebration." Wineries throughout the state will be hosting events and activities during the annual harvest to celebrate this recognition in September and October. Retailers in California, including Safeway, will put a special focus on the state's wines.