Friday, June 10, 2016

Domaine Modesto: Is the Central Valley Starting a Race to the Bottom for Pinot?

The big news from U.C. Farm Advisor Glenn McGourty's annual presentation at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival's technical conference was this: in 2015, the Central Valley outproduced coastal valleys in Pinot Noir production.

What? you say. Pinot Noir is a cool climate grape. It doesn't grow well in hot areas.

Just so.

Just as Cabernet was something that used to come from Bordeaux, but, in America, it comes from Modesto.

And all hail the Hearty Burgundy - a wine that was not Pinot. And an enological nightmare, since "hearty" and Pinot Noir are words that should never go together. (You wonder why they didn't name it Hearty Italian? Or Old World Red?)

Should we expect these new Pinot Noirs from the Central Valley to be named "Delicate Burgundy"?

Probably not.

Central Valley Outproduced Coastal Valleys

Though the Central Valley has only 14,000 acres of Pinot planted, its vines produce quantity at the expense of quality. Those vines yielded 63,000 tons of Pinot Noir, averaging $443 to $710 a ton.

Though the region has half the acreage of the coastal valleys, the hot climate area grew more tonnage than the cooler climate regions.

Credit: Glenn McGourty, Winegrowing and Plant Science Advisor, UCCE
In the coastal valleys, there are 36,700 acres of Pinot, but they yielded 57,000 tons of fruit in 2015, averaging $1,800 to $3,500 a ton.

2015 A Down Year in Coastal Pinot

The other side of this story of 2015 Pinot harvests is that coastal growers had a down year in Pinot Noir production, due to poor fruit set, frost and drought.

The 2015 harvest in the North Coast was down 22 percent for Pinot; in the Central Coast Pinot was down 34 percent. The Russian River Valley was the worst hit, losing 45 percent of its crop compared to 2014.

Overall the 2015 Pinot harvest was down 25 percent, averaging in all regions, declining from 245,000 tons in 2014 to 184,000 tons in 2015.

Overall Plantings and Prices: Up Up Up for Pinot

Yet, overall, plantings of Pinot have been up, up, up since 2000 when there were roughly 20,000 acres of Pinot statewide (and 1,653 of those were in Mendocino). By 2005 the state's acreage had increased to 24,000.
Credit: Glenn McGourty, Winegrowing and Plant Science Advisor, UCCE
The big leap took place between 2005 and 2010 when acreage rose to 37,000.

By 2015, Pinot plantings reached 44,000 (with 2,700 acres of Pinot in Mendo alone, a little under 20 percent of the county's total).

In addition, Pinot is now the highest priced grape grown in California, as the chart below shows.

Credit: Glenn McGourty, Winegrowing and Plant Science Advisor, UCCE
Growers' Concerns

McGourty raised the concern that if too much poor quality Central Valley Pinot reaches consumers, other tiers of Pinot Noir producers could be affected, if the varietal was downgraded by a large influx of cheap Pinot Noir.

He and others point to Syrah and Merlot as examples where that has previously happened in California.

Read More

Jim Gordon has written an excellent piece capturing more of the details of McGourty's presentation; you can read it in Wines and Vines here.

1 comment:

  1. Great points here on Pinot Noir but it's possible that the numbers in the McGourty table are for Harvest 2014 (report produced in 2015). I understand looking at the price per ton for top production varietals but the partial table that shows Pinot Noir as the highest price grape in California leaves out that other lower- production varietals fetch more than $1,624/ton. For example, look at Charbono that tops $2k/ton. Another elephant in the room concerning overproduction, overcropping, poor quality and a race for the bottom? Chardonnay.