Is It Still Too Early To Tell?

Rick Aldine, North Coast Grape Manager

We’re halfway through May and the 2018 vintage is definitely late by at least 2 weeks. Pre-bloom crop estimates are all over the place and it’s still way too early to guess the relative size. Newer vineyards and especially head/cane-pruned look more abundant (likely due to better sun exposure during 2017’s soggy Spring weather). Older cordon pruned vineyards and vineyards in the colder areas don’t look that heavy at all. Generally, the crop potential seems to be at least “normal” sized right now except Chardonnay. We’re seeing many Chard vineyards with small clusters. P. Noir & Cab seem to be OK. The most interesting observations we’ve heard yet… cluster development and bloom before shoots are fully elongated. Because the season started late, shoot vs cluster development is out of balance. These growers feel clusters and shoots are competing for resources and that will have a dramatic effect on shatter and set. Interesting, eh?

The grape buying market remains a bit sluggish and (I believe) buyers are waiting for bloom and set to either jump in and buy or wait for a possible price softening. Chardonnay remains the highest demand varietal, especially Russian River and Sonoma Coast AvA fruit. Russian River and Napa Sauv Blanc are near impossible to find and prices remain very high. Alexander Valley Cab & Merlot demand is strong. We’re getting lots of inquiries for Napa Cab Sauv but high prices are forcing heavy negotiating or waiting. Napa red blender demand is strong since most of the varietals’ prices are at least 25-40% less than Cab Sauv. Sonoma Pinot Noir seems abundantly available at the moment but asking prices are rather steep. If you’re looking for high-end Cab or P. Noir, we have excellent quality Cab Sauv grape opportunities in Napa (Calistoga, Chiles Vly, Pope Vly, Wooden Vly, Gordon Vly) and Sonoma (Alexander Vly and the hills west of Windsor) and smaller Pinot Noir grape lots from Russian River, Sonoma Coast and Potter Valley.

The bulk market for Reds is starting to move with an increasing volume of calls for samples of our Napa & Sonoma Cab Sauv. Given the misguided apprehension about 2017 Reds, there’s a run occurring on remaining 2016 Reds, especially Cab Sauv. It’s too bad that many bulk buyers are shy to purchase 2017 Reds because the 2017 vintage was fantastic and there are some amazing wines available at good prices. Bulk wine is such a good strategic hedge as part of your sourcing and cost control. Producers should consider custom bulk wine contracts with Agajanian to help blend down the increasing high cost of grapes.

Buyers, we have grape purchase opportunities in all 5 North Coast counties that can also be structured as custom wine contracts. Interested in long-term grape contracts?… we have terrific Cab Sauv and Cab Franc planting contract opportunities in Napa County. Let’s get our boots dirty! Give me a call to get out and look at 2018 grape opportunities OR come by our Napa office to taste through our bulk wine offerings. You can reach me at (707) 252-4800 office, (707) 287-6073 cell, rick@agajanian.com.
Our Napa office is located across from The Meritage Resort, 2785 Napa Valley Corporate Drive, Napa.

Dan Garcia, Northern Interior Grape Manager

There is not a lot of activity in the Interior at this time as the wineries are waiting to see crop size and estimates before they will commit to purchasing additional grapes. Early on it looks like Chardonnay could be on the lighter side of things which just might create a mad rush for what is left out there. So at this point there is discussion but not a lot of results from it other than keeping their foot in the door to what’s still available. I have seen this before and just be aware it could be gone before you know it.

I have some nice blocks of Petite Sirah available in the Interior and yes, some Chardonnay, along with other varieties like Merlot, Syrah, and Pinot Noir. If you are looking for help sourcing fruit in the Interior Region give me a call on my cell at (916) 425-6656. I can also help you with your bulk wine needs. Agajanian currently has a great list of bulk wines available. I can also be reached at dan@agajanian.com

Michael Haddox, Central Coast Grape Manager

I always feel like a big load is lifted after Mother’s Day weekend passes. It signals the passing of harmful spring frost season and in most cases is the start of the core section of the growing season. I’m seeing similar variation amongst varietals and locations across the Central Coast so rather than predict what the crop might look like, I want to focus on the balance and potential quality we are shaping up to have. Even though the overall market could use a lighter crop to help stabilize prices I think the overall trend is that we are in great shape again this year.

Canopies are mostly solid and balanced compared to the stress of drought conditions from a few years ago. Yes, there are areas of sporadic growth and even though the overall crop looks average to a little down I think over all we are in really good shape for a high quality vintage.
Although the market has been quiet I have seen a good amount of activity with smaller buyers looking to add a little supply to their brands. Mid-size wineries are making inquiries and talking about sizable needs but it still is down compared to the previous season at this stage of the year. With that said, just as I mentioned last month we have a fair amount of really great opportunities to add new supply. I have some really affordable fruit in southern Monterey County, some great choices in Cab, Merlot and Chardonnay in all east side Paso Districts, and some really nice high end fruit on the west side. This year I have also added a handful of new growers to the mix with really high end Italian fruit in Creston that is exceptional, East side Estrella district fruit that is on the market for the first time in 20 years, and a block in Santa Cruz that looks amazing.

The take home message I want to put out there is that 2018 is the season of opportunity. This is the year where you can secure some great high quality fruit at extremely competitive prices. Call me to discuss your needs as I have access to things you might not find anywhere else. If you need help chances are we can take care of it.
Best of luck to each of you as we get into this next stretch, I’m available to talk grapes, bulk wine and anything private label. Call me anytime at (805) 975-7001 on my cell.

Tim Mendonca, Central and Southern Interior Grower Relations

Well we finished the month of April with a little over 0.5 inch of total rainfall which occurred in two days. The weather has been really nice to start May off and looks like it will continue well into the month. That means the vines are loving it and we can see that by the nice growth that is happening. For the next couple of weeks, it looks like we will be having the same type of weather upper 70’s to low 80’s with the night time temperature in the mid to upper 50’s. It seems like we will actually have a spring season that will last longer than a couple of weeks, finger crossed.

Everything in the valley right now is going though bloom and it smells great, unless you are allergic which means you probably can’t smell anything and hate it. With cluster counts done we are seeing an average crop out there, but once berry set has happened we will really get to see what the potential crop size will be this year.

Market activity is pretty slow right now. It has mostly been clients renewing expired agreements to secure a base amount of fruit for their programs. There has been some activity in floral and rose varieties along with interest in the Rubired market, but it is still early and I think they are just out kicking tires. If you have any grapes or bulk wine for sale or are interested in any grapes and bulk wine feel free to give me a call at (559) 352-2452 or email: Tim@agajanian.com

Patrick Tachella, Director of Viticulture

Last month I said we would have an update for you on cluster counts in this newsletter… well cluster counting is pretty much done in the Central Valley. What we are seeing is odd indeed. A trend, whether it’s a big or small crop, has been hard to define. Amongst our five floral-white blocks we are seeing slightly higher cluster counts in 4 of the 5. But cluster size is strange. The primary clusters (closest to the cordon/cane) appear to have nice branching and length. Secondary clusters are more on the cylindrical and small side of the spectrum with very small branches. If we get a very good set crop size should be on par with long term averages. In the 5th block (a premium farmed Italian variety) there are almost no shoots with two clusters – it’s a lighter crop there for sure. Reds in the Central Valley are looking quite good this year with what I will predict is the same crop load as last year.

Raisin variety prices have a big effect on Chenin Blanc and French Colombard here in the South Valley – the prices are strong for raisins and the acreage is at record lows. Buy your generic whites now while you can. In the Northern Interior Pinot Noir trained on canes is looking very fruitful and may need some thinning, the spur pruned stuff is a bit less fruitful than desired. Chard and Cab look good with mostly double cluster shoots, with a tipple here and there. North Coast is generally in the same condition- not a bumper crop but not a blowout.

The Central Coast and its highly variable micro climates has the most crop load variability as well. Santa Barbara Co. blocks are looking quite light with many single cluster shoots which may drive spot market scarcity for those late to the game (wink, wink- buy early!). Moving north into the Edna Valley the picture is better but there are still more single cluster shoots than growers want to see. North of the Cuesta grade the picture is pleasant. Our reds appear to have a very healthy crop that will come in right on target once a light shoot thinning is finished. I have some concerns about the generally cool temperatures and extensive morning fog the central coast has been experiencing. As bloom comes shortly this may result in poor fruit set. Time will tell.

Reminder – this very temperate spring weather is the ideal powdery mildew growing temp and the index has been in the 90-100 percent range for weeks now. Please don’t get complacent just because it hasn’t been raining much recently. We are already seeing leaf spotting in all regions.

I will leave it at that this month. As always I would love to hear and get to come see any odd ball issues appearing in your vineyards so feel free to reach out to me via email at patrick@agajanian.com. I hope you enjoy this extended spring while you can… the summer heat will be here shortly.

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