The California Preliminary Grape Crush Report was released recently which showed that the 4,085,772 tons crushed in 2019 was a decline of more than nine percent from the previous year. While that number would appear a step in the right direction for addressing an oversupplied market, the decline was more of a result of grapes left unharvested rather than a drop in production.
“That number is a result of some grapes being left behind. That points to the fact that the tanks were full,” said Jeff Bitter, President of Allied Grape Growers. “Where we estimated that at least 100,000 tons did not get harvested last year, we’re thinking now it might have been closer to 200,000 tons statewide that did not get harvested and therefore did not get accounted for in the report.”
Bitter noted that the decline illustrated in the grape crush report could be attributed to two factors. Overall yields were down roughly five percent from the previous year and a significant amount of grapes went unharvested due to the lack of demand for more inventory. “Buyers bought all that they wanted or needed and so it kind of leaves us coming out of 2019 with a very ample supply of inventory in the wine business,” Bitter explained.
BRINGING PRODUCTION DOWN TO MEET DEMAND
The decline in tonnage crushed was indicative of so much production it was not economically viable to harvest it all and did little to address the issue of oversupply, which was a dominant topic of discussion at the recent Unified Wine and Grape Symposium. During the State of the Industry presentation, Bitter noted that acreage would have to be reduced in order to address the concern about overproduction. The number that was highlighted during the Symposium was the removal of 30,000 acres of winegrapes or approximately five percent of current California acreage.
“That’s just to balance things, that does not include vineyard acres that would otherwise have come out due to attrition anyway,” Bitter explained. “When you count the fact that attrition is usually 15,000 to 20,000 acres a year; you’re really saying at the end of the day we need 50,000 acres of winegrapes to come out of the ground in order to get us matched to current demand.”