November 2017

DRAMATIC WEATHER

The 2017 harvest was the most inconsistent we have ever experienced. Weather during the year and especially during the harvest, with its dramatic shifts, confused us, the vines and the grapes.

The wonderful wet winter and spring we had relieved our drought conditions, but also produced some flooded vineyards and a receptive atmosphere for mildew infections. There were three varieties in some vineyards that we had handled in previous years that had to be rejected due to mildew damage.

The late spring and early summer were a little warmer than normal but generally good for berry and bunch development. After veraison and later in the summer, temperatures averaged much higher than normal. It culminated with the dramatic heat wave of triple digits for over a week from late August to early September. It cut down on the crop and caused a lot of heat damaged to the vines. Needless to say a lot of grapes were unacceptable. We rejected grapes that we had already contracted due to this heat damage. The heat reduced sugar levels throughout the State as vines went backwards in their maturation process.

Following the heat wave, there was a cold weather problem for almost 12 days. Sugars stayed low. Many wineries throughout the State never operated at 100% capacity and were closer to 50%. Later in September, the State returned to normal temperatures and the harvest continued.

FREIGHT CONCERNS

Despite news coverage that there was no trucking strike this fall, there was a deliberate freight stoppage or slow down.  Drivers were protesting new Federal Electronic controls on the hours and days they can work.

Rates from the beginning season rose almost 20% during middle September. What was even more frustrating was the lack of availability of transportation. There was a whole week when we hardly shipped out anything refusing to pay the rates demanded. Since we own our own cold storage facility, we were able to hold the fruit without any additional cost of storage and eventually saving some of our customers significantly higher freight charges.

EXPERIENCE AND PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF

A lot of winemakers throughout the State are complaining about the poor condition of the harvest.  However, we are very happy with the results of the season. It took a lot of work and field supervision.  Some of the first grapes picked in 2016 were the last we harvested in 2017. There were several vineyards that we visited at least 10 times before a decision was made that the grapes were properly mature with good flavors and sugar.  Our excellent list of growers that we have and continue to rely on over the years was also a prime asset.

Our harvesting labor crews with over 15 years experience helped us tremendously in picking and packaging the proper grapes.  There was no labor shortage for us because there was never peak harvest time.  Also the crews know that we will compensate them equitably, no matter the condition. They know producing the best package of grapes, whether in bins or corrugated plastic containers, is the priority, not the cost.

THANKS FOR YOUR CONCERN

When the fires started in Napa and Sonoma counties, we got a lot of calls and e-mails asking if we were okay. We want to thank everyone for their concerns. We experienced no effects other than one morning there was a little haze and smell of smoke. It was devastating to see damages done to people’s homes and wineries.

CROP EFFECTS

There is no consensus as to what the tonnage was for the 2017 grape harvest. I feel it was at least 10% off from last year.  We haven’t heard of any price fluctuations for grapes during the season. However, we are seeing bulk wine prices increasing and for some varieties dramatically. I am not sure it is justified.  We all will have to wait for the Crush Report this winter.

We wish everyone had a very Happy Thanksgiving.   

F. Colavita & Son has a lot to be thankful for. Our season was very hard but it turned out rewarding.  We are hearing from our commercial and home winemakers about their satisfaction with the grapes they received from us. Even though volume throughout the industry is down, ours actually increased.  More than that, we are already getting inquires from potentially new customers for grapes in 2018.  Thanks

August 2017

The 2017 harvest is fast approaching.  At this time we anticipate we will be harvesting in earnest by August 28.  The nights are cooling off very nicely and color development looks very good.  Winery activity is still slow on a few varieties but varieties like Merlot are starting to look stronger.  We should   have our completed price list completed very shortly.

We are temporarily sold out of local Pinot Noir but hope to find another quality source.  This year we have Pinot Grigio to offer out both in bulk or in lugs. 

SOME OF OUR PREMIUM VINEYARDS

There are several special growers who raise outstanding grapes in unique growing areas that we have handled for years.  We have a few tons still available from some of these exceptional vineyards.  The grapes are available in approximate ½-ton tri-wall bins.  Upon writing this news letter we sold out on some of them, but have included them for future reference.

Sturm Gardner Ranch

Mariposa, CA -  6-8 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon still available.

“its explosive mineral herbal and forest expressions.  Fashioned from hand selected bunches….grown at 3,000 feet in elevation in the mountains of Mariposa.”  The vineyard is maintained at approximately 4 tons per acre. The wines made from the vineyard in the past have won gold medals in West Coast Wine Competitions. The quote that we have used consistently as selling slogan is “Napa Cabernet?  We don’t need no stinking Napa Cabernet!!!… .and at a fraction of their shameless inflated prices.”

Zypora Vineyards   

Nevada City, CA -  4-6 tons of Primitivo

The Zypora property is perfectly situated on the steep hillside with western exposure in the Sierra Nevadas.  The PRIMITIVO grows fabulous here.”  The site was selected after extensive research to find the best area in California to raise Primitivo.

The wines from these grapes are big, smooth and extremely complex.  One of the best wines we have ever tasted. 

Johnston Farms

Plymouth, CA -  Sangiovese – SOLD OUT

This vineyard is located in Plymouth, CA, at the entrance to Shenandoah Valley, in the heart of Amador County.  It is next to a famous winery that specializes in different Sangioveses.  We are able to get some one year and we have never relinquished our allotment.

Lava Cap Vineyards

Placerville, CA - Dolcetto – SOLD OUT

This vineyard is located in Placerville, CA.  This is in the Sierra Nevada foothills at a high elevation estate mountain vineyard of 2700 feet and grown in unique volcanic soil.

Coastal Pinot Noir & Coastal Chardonnay

San Benito County, CA

Some of you have received these Pinot Noir grapes that are raised in the North Central Coast, near Hollister in San Benito County with great success.  It is one of the premier Pinot Noir vineyards in the State.  F. Colavita & Son has shipped some of these grapes back to their parent winery in New York for many years.  Upon request we can inform you of the actual name of the vineyard and look up the wines that this vineyard has produced. 

Happy Times

It is such a pleasure to be talking or communicating with customers as the season ramps up.  We will again maintain our standard of not harvesting any of our black grapes with less than 24 sugar and full color.  When we here the horror stories of low sugar grapes last year from our competition, especially from new distributors who are located in different parts of the country and never see or know where their grapes are harvested, it makes us sad.  In contrast we are very proud when we hear about the medals won, see and even taste the wines that our customers both commercial and amateur have made.  We will maintain the standard to provide the best valued wine grapes available from California in 2017.        

July 2017

2017 Crop Assessment – July

After spending a couple weeks looking at the upcoming grape crop, we have come to the following conclusions:

The grape crop is not early. Everybody is saying that we are returning to a more “normal” ripening cycle. Currently, we have only partial veraison on the black grapes with full color probably not occurring generally for two to three weeks in the Lodi area.  After that we can project harvest dates according to sugar readings.

The crop is not a bumper crop.  There is some shatter and bunch count is not high. This goes for all varieties.  There also is some mildew infection in a lot of fruit.  We have already informed some growers that we will not be using their grapes this year.  Every year it is so important to have first hand supervision right here in California but especially this year to make sure the quality of the fruit is the best.  In our opinion, being at the source (in the vineyards before and during harvest) is the principle factor that distinguishes us the most from other wine grape sellers that are basically brokers.

Winery activity is not that robust.  This year the driving factor will not be the demand for grapes but rather the availability of product.  With the very hot weather that we have experienced, the crop is getting smaller. With supply moving closer to demand we may see some prices actually increase.  A few weeks ago everyone was thinking that Merlot and Zinfandel prices would drop from last year.  Right now, some spot prices for Merlot are higher than last year.  Zinfandels are the weakest variety, but I believe that they will clean up at respectable prices.  The Zinfandel crop looks very light to me.

TANNAT

For the first time we can offer Tannat grapes in volume.  Janice Robinson says “Young Tannat can be so deep coloured and tannic that it recalls Nebbiolo.  The wine is spicy mouth filling and exciting”. Please contact us if you’re interested in ordering Tannat.

VINEYARDS IDENTIFIED

For the home winemaker we have tried to identify grapes in our 36 lb lug by the source vineyard.  This year we are going to try and do the same for our winery customers.  We will attempt to put the source ranch or ranches on each bin.   This should help our winery customers to get a consistent product every year.  Get your orders to us as soon as possible.

June 2017

2017 CROP REPORT

A general statement appraising the 2017 crop could be “we have a good crop on the red grapes, but no bumper crop, with the white grapes especially Chardonnay are showing a lighter crop”.  There are a couple of varieties that are an exception.  One of them is Montepulciano.  Bunch count is there but the shatter is so great within bunches that it will make for an exceptionally light crop.  

A couple of conditions that have to be assessed may affect production.   One of them is powdery mildew.  We have seen it in some local vineyards on certain varieties and there are some reports that downy mildew may have affected some Coastal Vineyards.  The second issue is the effect of a substantial hail storm that came through Northern California on Sunday June 11.  There are already some published reports of damage in Napa, some talk of damage in the Western District of Lodi and we know it hailed in the Sierra Foothills.

Winery activity is quiet.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are in very strong demand. Even with the projected light crop on Chardonnay, wineries are still not willing to pay more for them.  Regular Zinfandels, Merlot and Syrah appear to be weak and there are growers who are looking for homes.  Last year there were some Zinfandels that were not harvested.  Most of those were vineyards, whose grapes had previously been raised for White Zinfandel production, were not grown properly for red wine.  Contracts for good Old Vine Zinfandels are being readily renewed.

With the wet winter and cool spring we are not anticipating an early harvest.  The weather pattern for the summer is anything but predictable.  As mentioned above, it was cold and wet the weekend of June 11th and this weekend we are experiencing a triple digit heat wave that will likely extend throughout the week.  What will happen the next weekend is anybody’s guess.  With a cool summer we will have a late harvest, with a warm summer our harvest will be “Normal”.  There also appears to be an historical difference in maturity between Districts.  This is good news in that it spreads out the harvest.

The labor situation in our area does not appear to be too disparate.  The cherry harvest progressed with a sufficient labor supply.  Prices for harvest did not go up per harvested unit but last year’s cherry crop was very light and this year’s crop was very good.   The daily income for the pickers rose sharply and we anticipate that trend to continue for the grape harvest.

GOOD FRIENDS AND EXCELLENT WINE MAKERS

I have two good friends and excellent winemakers who are looking for employment.  One is located in the mid-West and the other is located in California but he has worked on the East Coast.  If you are looking for extremely competent winemakers, I would not hesitate to recommend these individuals.  Contact me if you have some interest.

ROSÉ IS A HOT TICKET

With wine sales of rosé wine rising over 50% last year, there is a tremendous interest in rosé wines.   We have tasted rosé that has been made out of almost every variety.  Years ago there was a rosé that was made out of Pinot Noir—it was called Eye of the Swan.  Until this year it was the finest I ever tasted.  Last year a customer made a rosé from our grapes that topped anything.  It was an equal blend of Merlot, Old Vine Zinfandel and Malbec.  I personally love dry rosé wines, but for me in a lot of instances, especially imports, there is a little tartness at the end.  This blend had nothing of that. It was fruity forward, clean, crisp wine.  A great wine!!!!!!! We have access to some bulk rosé wine made from Syrah. Please contact us, if you have some interest.

LOCAL PINOT NOIR AVAILABLE

This year we will be able to offer locally grown Pinot Noir together with our great Coastal Pinot Noir.  The local grapes are being raised with extremely limited production per acre to insure great flavors and color.  They are considerably less expensive than the Coastal grapes.  Please contact us, if you have some interest.

BULK WINES AVAILABLE

We have access to several bulk wines, including Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, Malbec, Red Blends, Syrah rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and white blends. Bulk wines are available in shiners, tanks, and/or barrels. Please contact us, if you have some interest.

April 2017

PRODUCTION IN BALANCE WITH DEMAND

The recently released 2016 California Grape Crush Report contained no great surprises. Tonnage production was up 8.5 % from the year before and totaled over 4.2 million tons.  The largest crush in California was the 2013 crush with 4.7 million tons. However, the actual crush of wine grapes in 2016 was within 250,000 tons of the record. This is a reflection of a dramatic reduction in Thompson Seedless acreage and large increases in Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir and Petit Sirah acreage.

The average price paid for grapes increased by about $80.00/ton. That average increase was mainly due to the increase of Northern Coastal Cabernet Sauvignon (see yearly comparisons below). It is not reflective of the industry as a whole where prices were close to the 2015 season. Without any curve balls by Mother Nature, this year’s prices will be close to the 2016 season with a few exceptions. Yields will be within balance with demand for most varieties except for Zinfandel (not Old Vine), Merlot and possibly Syrah. 

CABERNET SAUVIGNON PRICING REACHES NEW HEIGHTS

The below table shows how Cabernet Sauvignon grapes have increased in price in Northern Coastal areas:

cabernet table 2016

Lodi is seeing more interest from outside buyers looking for quality grapes at more affordable prices that can not be found in the coastal regions, like Sonoma and Napa. With the trend toward premiumization, wineries will be looking to control costs while still delivering a higher-end quality product. This is especially seen, not only for Cabernet Sauvignon, but also Petit Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio grapes.

DROUGHT EFFECTIVELY OVER

Many of you must have heard about the very wet winter we have had together with some of the very high profile flood conditions around the State. It rained so much and the snowpack is so heavy in the Sierras that the drought is declared over for most parts of the State. It’s expected that the flood problems that occurred will cause no measurable damage to vineyards and production. If anything, wet winters usually influence good production.

The wet and cold winter also broke the trend towards historically early harvests that occurred the last two seasons.  We should be approaching a “normal” season as far as timing.

NO POLITICS, JUST OBSERVATIONS

Immigration is a hot potato in today’s politics. Whether you believe in a wall or not, eventually we must have a comprehensive immigration policy. We need sufficient labor to harvest our grapes and other crops. Hopefully with a safe border, the political climate will be there to pass an amicable immigration program where guest workers can come and work our fields and vineyards.

COASTAL PINOT NOIR SOURCE

Wine made by a Sonoma Winery from our San Benito County source of Coastal Pinot Noir grapes has received a 91 point rating from Wine Enthusiast Magazine. It is a truly premium source of Pinot Noir.

EXPOSITIONS & CONFERENCES

It is always a nice occasion to possibly meet new contacts at the winery shows. More rewarding, is to see our current customers and friends, both commercial winemakers or owners and home winemakers, and spend a little time together. That is true joy. Thank you to everyone for the successful Eastern and Texas show.

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