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A historic harvest and a changing market: Napa’s growers navigate grape glut

Posted on November 25, 2019 by michelle_magnus

Article courtesy of Napa Valley Register by Sarah Klearman

They’re the classic drivers of any market: supply and demand. Experts say that unfavorable conditions in both have presented the region’s wine industry with a grape glut — a challenge in the form of oversupply.

It’s not that this year’s harvest was particularly large, according to Jon Ruel, CEO for Trefethen Family Vineyards, but rather that last year’s harvest is on the mind — and in the tanks — of many wineries.

“When we talk oversupply, it’s the hangover from 2018,” Ruel said, noting that 2018 gave way to a harvest of historic proportion. “For wineries, it’s not hard to remember just how big 2018 was, because a lot of (the wine) is still in the pipeline.”

On the demand side, according to Glenn Proctor, partner of the wine brokerage firm Ciatti Company, the market for wine experienced a “pullback” beginning in 2017. The majority of 2018’s harvest was contracted — meaning grapes were spoken for — but the size of the crop itself, the largest picked to date in California, “exacerbated” the glut situation the industry finds itself in today, Proctor said.

In 2018, wineries crushed a staggering 612,833 tons of grapes, up more than 20% from 2017. Harvest was especially flush in Napa and Sonoma counties; growers harvested a crop that was about a third larger than usual, according to Proctor. He said spot market prices for uncontracted fruit this year hit a steep decline, with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes—a relative market strength—selling for less than half of what it sold for in 2018.

“2019 has been a year where it’s tough to sell grapes and bulk wine, because most of the buyers — wineries — already had sizable inventories because of 2018,” he added.

John Hughes, owner of H&H Wine Brokerage in Napa, said he’d seen notable price deflation in the market this year. Earlier this season, he brokered a deal that saw Napa Valley Cabernet go for $12 a gallon — about a third of its regular price. Even starker, he said, was the price at which some Napa Valley grapes were selling: his firm saw “quite a bit of movement” at $1,500 per ton. That’s just a fourth of what grapes — at around $6,000 or more per ton — normally sell for.

“The market just won’t sustain that anymore,” Hughes added. “(Distributors) aren’t picking up wine at previous prices, so we’re marketing to a different group of folks.”

Those ‘folks’ are largely the millennial crowd — a group with a taste for “a different bottle of wine” than has been traditionally marketed by Napa, Hughes said, and a weak point for the wine industry. Proctor also cited competition from beer, spirits and new additions to the alcoholic beverage market, like increasingly popular spiked seltzers and even hard kombucha.

“It may not be focused at (all) age groups, but it is really interesting,” Proctor said, of the drinks. “We’ll see how the consumer chooses, which is good: the wine industry has to remain competitive and produce a high quality product.”

Ruel believes that won’t be difficult: though 2018 was notable for the quantity of the crop it produced, he says the quality of the fruit was notable, too.

“Napa’s wineries are in a position of having more wine than they need, so they’ll get to be especially choosy (with their fruit),” Ruel added. “That makes this a great time to be a consumer.”

There are a variety of ways with the oversupply, Ruel added. He’s spoken to vineyard owners strategically replanting some acreage this year, delaying future fruit production to correspond with market rebound. Wineries, on the other hand, could be purposeful with moving inventory, creating tank space for grapes.

That’s been the tactic at hand for Cliff Lede Winery, according to COO Remi Cohen. Lede Family Wines grows all of its own grapes and saw a large 2018 harvest, in line with industry trends, Cohen said. It helps, she added, that the harvest in 2017 was under average — globally, it was the lowest level of production in 16 years.

Cliff Lede Winery has a tank for each of its vineyard blocks, Cohen added, meaning it isn’t strapped for space. Still, though, the winery plans to push the release and thus the sale of its 2017 vintage up earlier than originally planned.

“Then we’ll be able to release 2018 early, and have more time to sell that — that’s our main strategy,” Cohen said, of moving inventory, adding that the excess is “a good problem” to have.

“We could have had two other problems: not enough fruit, or too much mediocre fruit. This is an opportunity,” Cohen said.

Proctor noted that in speaking with clients, he’s observed “adjusting on the supply side.”

“No one was making a whole bunch of wine, hoping there would be a buyer. People were cautious,” he said.

Hughes said much would depend on the size of the harvest in 2020. A smaller harvest could correct the oversupply — though Ruel noted that growers, as farmers, “never hope” for a small growing year. And Proctor pointed to the ever-cyclical nature of agriculture, which has long been at the mercy of supply and demand.

“Growers aren’t overjoyed, but they see a path forward,” Proctor said. “They’ve been through this before.”

We Live in a Beautiful Place

Posted on November 25, 2019 by michelle_magnus

Mark Stevens, November 2019

I took a few days off at the beginning of November to celebrate my wife’s birthday at a place that we both hold dear: West Point Inn on the wind-swept ridges of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County. For three days we hiked the numerous trails surrounding the Inn, ate delicious meals, and enjoyed the company of our two grown daughters who made the trip up to join us from their busy lives in the Bay area. This was a rare treat!

For those who are unfamiliar with the story of West Point Inn, it was built in 1904 and was a brief stop on what was then known as the “crookedest railroad in the world” where passengers could meet a stage coach bound for the beach. The railroad is gone now but the West Point Inn remains as an “off the grid” haven for hikers and a monument to the rich historic heritage of our region. The Inn offers sweeping panoramic views of the East Bay, parts of San Francisco, the Marin Headlands, one tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Pacific Ocean.

Back in the day, it was a place where trains met a horse-drawn stagecoach from Willow Camp (today’s popular Stinson Beach) and it provided hospitality for visitors at the westernmost point of the railroad—hence the name “West Point Inn.” The stagecoach service ended in 1915; between 1918 and 1920 the Inn’s porch was enlarged and a dining room added. The West Point Inn and its cabins are the only things left of the railroad and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1930 the railroad abandoned operations and the Inn came under the jurisdiction of the Marin Municipal Water District. The Inn became popular with weekend hikers but was abandoned during WWII due to lack of profitability. In 1943 volunteers began running the Inn and their ideas are the basis of how the Inn is run today.

West Point Inn remains a unique destination for many and a rite of passage among serious mountain bikers, where it’s argued that Mount Tam was the birthplace for that sport. To get a reservation at the Inn, members pay a $20 fee and volunteer for three workdays or public pancake breakfasts and can reserve 120 days in advance. Non-members are limited to a 90-day reservation window. The Inn hosts seven rooms in the inn, and five cabins where you can bring your camping gear and meals.

This time around we spent three lovely days at the Inn, hiking, relaxing and spending time together as a family briefly reunited. It was a lovely and much appreciated pause from our everyday routine.  West Point Inn is truly a unique gem in our region and if you’ve never been, be sure to put it on your bucket list.

No, the Kincade Fire Didn’t Level Sonoma County. So Go Visit.

Posted on November 13, 2019 by michelle_magnus

Photo Courtesy of A. Rafanelli Winery

A. Rafanelli Winery in Dry Creek Valley is among Sonoma’s many wineries hoping to welcome travelers after the Kincade Fire. “We’re here. We’re ready. We’re waiting,” says winemaker Shelley Rafanelli.

Article courtesy of AFAR.com by Matt Villano


No, the Kincade Fire Didn’t Level Sonoma County. So Go Visit.

This past Monday was a glorious afternoon on the plaza in downtown Healdsburg. Not a cloud in the sky. Brisk, fresh air to inhale. Over by the fountain, a toddler busily placed leaf after leaf on the surface of the water and watched his “boats” float away. Under the gazebo, a gaggle of teenagers strummed guitars. Across Healdsburg Avenue, inside Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen, servers were buzzing around the dining room preparing for the dinner crowd. Through the windows at nearby stores, you could see shoppers buying shoes, clothes, and locally made art and knickknacks as souvenirs to bring back home.

Yes, this is the same Healdsburg that was threatened by the raging Kincade Fire last month. And, yes, that same fire destroyed more than 140 homes and most of a historic winery as it churned through nearly 78,000 acres of a largely unpopulated area in the northeast corner of the county. There’s no question that the fire harmed Sonoma County; days of forced power and gas shutdowns from the regional utility affected the entire San Francisco Bay Area.

Cal Fire declared the Kincade Fire 100 percent contained on November 6. A few days before that, this part of wine country was back to being as beautiful and vibrant as ever.

In Geyserville, Healdsburg, and Windsor, the three communities closest to the fire, small businesses run by local artisans are open for business. Restaurants, from hole-in-the-wall taco stands to the Michelin-starred Single Thread, are cranking out delicious meals. Heck, even Soda Rock Winery, which lost nearly all its modern production and visitor-oriented facilities in the blaze, is back to hosting weekend tastings in a 100-year-old barn that survived.

“People have a tendency to see images of burning houses or hear, ‘Natural disaster!’ and think the worst,” says Dave Hagele, Healdsburg’s mayor and a long-time resident. “The truth is that while this fire did a number on a whole bunch of wild land to the north and east, the part of wine country that people know and love is carrying on with business as usual.”

Understanding “the burn zone”

Perhaps the best way to explain the situation in Sonoma County is with simple math. There are 1,131,520 acres of land in Sonoma County, and about 78,000 of those were burned. That means less than 7 percent of the land in Sonoma County was affected by the Kincade Fire. Which means that more than 93 percent of the county was unharmed and today looks exactly as it did on October 22, the day before the fire started.

Sam Bilbro, owner and winemaker at Idlewild Wines, was frustrated with some of the negative press the region was getting after the fire, so he created an Instagram post that tells this story with a picture. The image depicts a map of the county with the burn zone delineated in red. Compared to the rest of the map, the red part is minuscule.

“You look at this map and you realize the fire was a really small part of Sonoma County,” he says. “Our cities, our forests in West County, our coastline, and the Sonoma Valley are as they’ve always been.”

Kendall Jackson Family Wines Picks Up Adorable Boutique Winery In Anderson Valley

Posted on October 15, 2019 by michelle_magnus

Above: Balo Winery in Philo, CA closed escrow with Jackson Family Wines in October of 2019. Article courtesy of Press Democrat by Bill Swindell, 10/14/19. Mark Stevens with The Agency Real Estate in Healdsburg, CA represented the Seller as did Trevor Codington with Abbey Law in Santa Rosa, CA

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Jackson Family Wines of Santa Rosa on Monday said it expanded in Mendocino County by acquiring the winery, vineyard and tasting room of Balo Vineyards in the Anderson Valley.

Jackson, the ninth-largest wine company in the United States, did not disclose the price that it paid for the winery, which was founded by the Mullins family in 2003. The property, which includes almost 7 acres of planted vineyards, previously had been listed for $4.7 million by a real estate agent.

“Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke fell in love with Anderson Valley in the late 1980s, when only a handful of wineries were in existence in the region at the time,” Rick Tigner, chief executive officer of Jackson Family Wines, said in a statement. “With the purchase of the winery and tasting room we have enhanced our presence in the valley, adding a resource for our small-lot winemaking and the opportunity to host wine lovers in the region.”

The property will give Jackson its first opportunity to have a tasting room in Mendocino County even though the company has been sourcing grapes from there since buying the Edmeades estate in 1988.

This deal will add to the wine company’s portfolio in the Anderson Valley — known for its well-regarded pinot noir and premium chardonnay used in sparkling wines — built through acquisitions of the Skycrest, Sable Mountain and Maggy Hawk estate vineyards and boutique wineries Siduri and Copain.

Jackson also has many brands that use fruit sourced from the region, such as its top sellers Kendall-Jackson and La Crema.

The company expects to take more than a year to refurbish the Balo tasting room and decide which brands in its portfolio would be featured there. Balo is located next to Domaine Anderson and across the street from the Drew Family Cellars, Goldeneye and Smith-Story tasting rooms, spokeswoman Kristen Reitzell said.

“Jackson Family Wines has been a winegrower in Anderson Valley for quite some time, and we are thrilled by this new commitment that will allow for them to have a greater presence and connection with the community and consumers alike,” said Courtney DeGraff, executive director of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association.

 

#MerlotMe Campaign for October Merlot Month Aims to Break Record

Posted on October 02, 2019 by michelle_magnus

Worldwide Merlot Month Movement Engages Millions

by Press Release
October 01, 2019

Napa, Calif.—Beginning October 1st wine lovers and producers from around the world will join together for #MerlotMe, a month-long, global movement celebrating the Merlot grape. The seventh year of the #MerlotMe movement aims to hit a record number of social posts using the hashtag to reach millions of wine lovers.

#MerlotMe unites passionate wine lovers to celebrate this lavishly textured, dazzling versatile noble red grape varietal. Wine producers and consumers across the globe will celebrate Merlot online during October with the hashtag #MerlotMe, sharing wines while toasting and tasting at events, in wine stores, restaurants, and homes everywhere.

How to #MerlotMe:

Get your hands on Merlot! Share online with #MerlotMe.
Visit MerlotMe for the latest on where to taste, recipes, and follow participating wineries for Merlot news all month long.

Visit your favorite winery and mention #MerlotMe for special offers and tastings.

Participating wineries, restaurants and retailers will feature #MerlotMe inspired tasting flights, food bloggers are posting Merlot-paired recipes with #WinePW Twitter chat on Saturday, October 12th at 10 am CST, spotlighting the food-friendly nature of the varietal. Winery tasting rooms in California, Washington and beyond are featuring special tasting flights, reserve and library pours and special pricing in honor of Merlot Month.

Merlot Momentum

In just the last five years the #MerlotMe celebration has generated more than 62 million social media impressions and reached a worldwide audience in 40+ countries and nearly all 50 states with almost 15,000 social media posts. Merlot is one of the most popular fine wine varieties in the world with more than 720,000 acres planted worldwide. Merlot is the third leading red varietal after Cabernet Sauvignon and Red Blends purchased by Americans today *. Merlot is the #1 red most consumed wine varietal according to consumers in a Wine Intelligence August 2018 survey of more than 4,000 wine consumers across all ages and drinking preferences. Merlot led social discussions online versus other varietals during the majority of months over the past year and Merlot received 43% of social mentions during the past year**. California Merlot consumption was approximately 19 million cases in 2017 in the U.S., growing from the 2.8 million cases sold in 1994*.

Visit www.merlotme.com for more information on events, recipes, participating wineries, materials for the wine trade, and how to #MerlotMe.

Article courtesy of WineBusiness.com

 

See one our vineyard listings that features merlot:  Annadel Winery

Invitation to Yellowstone….or, How Lucky Can I Get???

Posted on October 02, 2019 by michelle_magnus

Braving taciturn mules, grizzlies and inclement weather, we headed off to Montana for a pack trip in the remotest regions of Yellowstone National Park……

This year I was honored to be invited by long-time client and friend Jed Steele (of highly acclaimed Steele Winery) on his annual 5-day packing trip into Yellowstone National Park at the end of August. As the day arrived to depart, I was ready to realize a dream: packing into some of the most remote regions of Yellowstone National Park on horseback with a mule train of supplies for our adventures.

Leaving Sonoma County wine country in the high 80s I arrived at Livingston, Montana in the low 40s…..complete with scattered showers and icy northern blasts. Weather in the high country is no joke, and even though it was August, winter-like weather was making an unwanted visit.

Despite the chill and in between rain showers, the sun made its welcome appearance and turned yellowing aspen leaves into light-filled expanses of gold. My trip to Yellowstone was everything I had hoped it would be: spectacular high-country scenery, grizzly bears viewed from a distance (thank goodness), elk, bison, and a big 18” cutthroat trout that I managed to catch—and then release–off the shores of Heart lake. My trusty horse “Brush” couldn’t have taken better care of me, and my REI sleeping bag and down jacket lived up to the name. An unexpected treat was getting a first-hand experience of mules—they are so cool! Similar to horses, but at the same time so very different.

Now returned to our beloved Wine Country, I am reminded of how scenic beauty can take numerous forms and have many different looks and feels. Here in Sebastopol it is now October, and the days have just begun to feel like fall. In comparison to Montana, fall here is a mellow affair and one full of plenty and harvest. Meanwhile, I am already looking forward to a repeat performance at Yellowstone next year…..what do you say, Jed?

 

–Mark Stevens

October 2019