Here at Allied Grape Growers AGG, we recently combed through the 2013 Grape Acreage Report published by the California Ag Statistics Service. As we have done over the years, we analyzed every corner of the report, identifying missing acres and creating a better understanding of the true winegrape acreage planted in the state, by district and variety. Since the report is voluntary we know data will be missing, but fortunately with the information obtained via the state’s 2013 Grape Crush Report combined with other data gathered, such as AGG’s proprietary annual nursery survey, we can fill in the missing holes and present a more relevant picture of supply potential for today and the future. We pay special attention to Lodi for this article in order to call out exactly where the missing acres are, by variety.
The Grape Acreage Report shows 67,852 bearing winegrape acres in Lodi (District 11). This may not mean much on the surface to most growers, but the reality is that these acres are significantly under-reported. Via analysis of multiple sources, including those referenced above, AGG has determined that there is likely somewhere between 85,000 and 88,000 acres actually bearing in Lodi, about a 30% difference over what is reported! How can this be, you ask? Participation for the report is voluntary, so certain growers elect not to participate. Unfortunately, this creates an incomplete data set leading industry analysts and planners scratching their heads about supply.
After a full analysis of the report, AGG estimated the following approximate white winegrape acres are not reported in District 11: over 4,000 acres of Chardonnay, +/-1,500 acres of Pinot Grigio, 350 acres of Sauvignon Blanc, over 500 acres of Viognier, and over 500 acres of floral varieties. On the red winegrape side the reported acreage wasn’t any more reliable with the following estimates of missing acres by major variety: over 4,500 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 320 acres of Malbec, over 3,000 acres of Merlot, almost 1,000 acres of Pinot Noir, about 1,200 acres of Petite Sirah and Syrah combined, and almost 2,000 acres of Zinfandel.
What is even more alarming is that reported bearing acres are much more accurate than reported non-bearing acres. The Grape Acreage Report identifies only 3,500 acres of non-bearing winegrapes in District 11. In reality we believe that number is much more. In fact, our internal analysis indicates that there was at least twice that much planted last year alone in Lodi! When combined with those acres planted in 2011 and 2012, the total non-bearing acres in Lodi is almost certainly over 15,000 acres, at least four times more than reported, bringing the total bearing and non-bearing grape acreage in Lodi to at least 100,000 acres.
Another confirming piece of information that AGG’s estimates are reasonable is that the Department of Pesticide Regulation shows about 135,000 winegrape acres permitted for pesticide applications in the counties included in District 11. Not all of these acres fall within District 11, so it is a bit of a guessing game, but it is certainly reasonable to estimate that at least 100,000 of these acres are in Lodi.
So what is the crop potential in 2014 on the bearing portion of these acres? Our initial look at the crop has involved counting clusters as well as additional visual assessment as the season has progressed. In May we completed our cluster counts and found the following regarding the four major varieties in Lodi (See table below).
2014 Lodi Bunch Count (With Percent Change from 2013)
Zinfandel (on wire)
Zinfandel (head trained)
As you can see, they are all down, and for the most part are down fairly significantly from last year, with Zinfandel standing out as the most affected. Lodi’s crop was huge last year, so being off of last year does not mean it is a small crop. It just means it could be a smaller crop than last year. Our visual assessments of Zinfandel do point toward a crop that is likely 2-3 tons per acre smaller than last year and probably closer to average. Even though Chardonnay cluster counts were off, the crop is looking decent so far. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, however, are showing signs of shatter and may not size to be quite as big as last year….again closer to what we might call average. It is very hard to estimate this year as we are seeing variation from vineyard to vineyard and even within vineyards! In a few Chardonnay vineyards we are observing botrytis bunch rot, but for the most part disease and pest pressure (including mildew in Chardonnay) has been light, and the growing season has been in the grower’s favor.
The market has been relatively quiet this year as wineries continue to digest two record breaking crops in a row. In our next summary, we will attempt to pinpoint the market a bit more and provide some valuable summary of prices and activity. Until then, good luck with a continued positive growing season!