California grape prices

The 2011 California grape price numbers are in, packed with surprises.

With almost 90 percent of America’s grape market, the results of harvests and sales in California have worldwide impact.

California’s overall grape harvest fell almost seven percent from 2010 because a wet winter and spring delayed fruit set. California Wine Institute called the vintage “challenging.” Compared to 2010, red grape harvest fell 6.5 percent, white grape harvest 7.3 percent.

Headline: Smallest crop since 2008, California grape prices soar. Expect to pay more for your left-coast pour.

Headline: Experts expect state’s elegant, full-flavor 2011 wines to be lighter and lower in alcohol. Subhead: Maybe a good thing, given penchant of some maker’s for over-the-top efforts.

Headline: Sideways effect that pleasured pinot planters and mauled merlot makers began its wane. For first time since movie “Sideways” savaged merlot and pumped pinot noir in 2004, merlot prices climbed 13 percent to $691/ton; pinot prices plunged 13 percent to $1,266/ton.

Headline: Average price for all varieties rose eight percent from 2010 and three percent more than previous record set in 2009. Napa County grapes retained their reign, fetching $3,400/ton, up five percent. Second-place Sonoma and Marin county pickings hammered down at $2,081/ton, up three percent.

Comparing prices of Big-Two grapes for all of California, chardonnay sold for $752/ton, up five percent, and cabernet sauvignon sold for $1,147/ton, up 11 percent.

It will be interesting to see effects of California’s challenging vintage over the next couple of years, and how non-California winemakers take advantage of their opportunity.


• Big House Unchained Naked Chardonnay 2009. Green apple, pear; clean, bright, smooth with some body; wee bit dry, un-oaked, easy acidity; buy it. $10

• Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Pinot Noir 2009. Aromatic; raspberry-cherry-roses; cranberry, strawberry; light, simple, pleasing value play. $15

• Sanctuary Estates Rutherford Usibelli Cabernet Sauvignon 2008. Cherry-cedar nose; black cherry, toasty oak, gentle mouth; smooth, rich; tasty tannins. $30