Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Erin Go Bragh! Sooo… I’ve got some crow to eat. Last month, I opined about barren ski slopes, lack of rainfall and a “False Spring”. God took pity and blessed us with an additional month of winter! The Sierra snowpack is back up to low-normal, we’re getting a 2-3 day rain event every week and the widespread budbreak that looked imminent a month ago did not happen.

Oh, there are growers out there with Pinot Noir buds out ¼” but it’s very isolated to the usual early sites. Those poor folks have been nursing the frost alarm for a month already. I’m not yet backing off my early season prediction for a “normal to normal-minus” 2018 crop… similar or less than 2017.

The bulk market was hot in November 2017, especially for pre-fire Napa and Sonoma Cab Sauv winelots, then it did its usual Christmas holiday slowdown. It woke up again late January after Unified Symposium and then slowed when the Dow dropped 1500 points the 1st week of February. Bulk activity has steadily ramped up since mid-February, especially after the Grape Crush Report was published.

Once again, prices went up significantly, especially Napa Cab Sauv, climbing 8% to an unprecedented $7421/ton. But it’s Cab Franc that wins the prize for highest priced varietal at $7968/ton. Yikes. I will say, I’m getting a lot of calls begging for Cab Franc… as grapes and bulk wine. Russian River Chard remains extremely hot as Buyers posture to load up on replacement supply since the 2017 Chard crop came in way short of normal. Napa Merlot is getting popular again as the go-to alternative red to help blend down high Cab grape costs. Sauvignon Blanc demand remains strong.

Many grape buyers are lamenting the escalating grape costs and are saying that bulk wine is their most reasonable and rational play at the moment. I again pose the question, “Given your wine programs, is this yearly grape price inflation sustainable?” Have you Winemakers considered, as part of your sourcing and cost strategy, spot bulk purchasing? Or better yet, a custom bulk wine contract to help blend down your high cost of grapes?

Buyers – We have premium bulk wine! We have grape purchase opportunities in all five North Coast counties. I have a fantastic 60 acre Cabernet planting contract opportunity in southeast 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.


Rick Aldine
North Coast Grape Manager