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TUESDAY TRIBUTES
02/07/2012
Tuesday Tributes
New Plantings—An Opinionated Analysis

By Charles Olken

Recent reports on new plantings, while positive in the aggregate, offer no happiness for drinkers and collectors of higher priced, coastally grown wines.

Let’s begin with the positive. In 2011, after several lean years, plantings increased across California by about 4%. Because plantings respond to shortages, both real and anticipated in grape supplies, this uptick in plantings has to be viewed as good for the industry as a whole. But, when one looks behind the numbers, several less than desirable data points stick out for the expensive end of the market.

Most of the new plantings were focused on warmer, high production locations in the Central Valley. While the added attention to Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir in that region does mean that we will see an increase in less expensive versions of those highly regarded varieties, it also means that lower levels of plantings have occurred in coastal vineyards. With wine sales on the upswing and tight and less than stellar vintages hitting the market and waiting in the wineries, it will mean somewhat leaner times for collectors. It will also mean that price pressure will be pushing up from the bottom, and prices are now more likely to rise than they have been for a few years.

One takeaway from this story needs to be that collectors will do better pricewise in the next year than beyond, but, that given the mixed quality of the vintages, selectivity will be more essential. The second takeaway is that Pinot Noir, being an early ripening variety, is going to be more consistent than other varieties. 2009 has turned out to be a very good year for Pinot, and despite the inevitable disasters for some vineyards and wineries in 2011, Pinot should come through in that vintage as well.

Cabernet Sauvignon is likely to be a somewhat different story if only because it requires longer hang times than Pinot. Regardless of the many stories about successful vineyard results that have extended into November and stayed in good health, it is also true that there is a cross-current of stories about grapes that simply did not get picked. And while November harvests can work out—witness 1998 which was written off in some quarters but still produced some very good wines, it is also the fact that grapes that achieve needed sugar levels through dehydration rather than vine-ripening are rarely the producers of greatness.

“Greatness” may not be a matter of concern for the largest percentage of wine drinkers who want clean, easy to like wines and whose roles in keeping the industry healthy are essential, but it is central to the expensive end of the wine world. Rising demand and even modestly limited production in “fancy” wine are likely to work together against the interests of those of us who want greatness but do not want to pay over the odds for it. It is bad enough that $40 to $60 has become the entry price for very high quality Pinots and Cabernets and is trending that way in Chardonnay as well. For our sakes and for the sakes of consumers, we can hope that $75 will not become the new $50. We saw rises of that nature happen almost overnight in the mid-90s and then thankfully slow down. The potential for rapid price rise is now in the cards, and we all need to keep a weather eye out for the return of boom times in wine and grape pricing. We are dealing with an agricultural commodity when one gets right down to it.


 

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Comments

high end wine production
by tim waits
Posted on:2/8/2012 8:37:08 PM

Consumers that want moderate priced high quality wines need to wake up.  Pinot's and Cab's that are grow in the area like Napa, Santa Barbara and Oregon has very little ability to expand production and lower the price of their wine.  With land cost along approching $200,000 acre and with low yeild fo 3 to 4 tons per acre they can't afford to sell for less. see clarksburgwinecountry.com

New plantings
by Ken Musso
Posted on:2/11/2012 4:30:32 PM
I had a conversation recently with a grape salesman from a well known coastal nursery and he mentioned that the "hottest" varietals that he was selling were Muscato Giallo and Sangiovese.Sangiovese??? Apparently the valley Pinot wannabe's are finding it works well in small amounts with Pinot Noir.As far as Muscato Giallo is concerned, early ripening and 8 tons to the acre is apparently the answer.

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