Changes in acreage composition

Changes in acreage composition – California vineyards

Although total California grape acreage has remained at about the same level the past three years (692,595 acres in 1990), there have been changes in acreage composition. From 1989 to 1990, total bearing acreage dropped almost 4,000 acres to 638,137 acres. At 290, 561 acres, wine variety bearing acreage maintained its level of the previous year; however, within the wine variety category, the bearing acreage of red varieties increased from 125,246 acres in 1989 to 128,131 acres in 1990, while white varieties went from 164,979 acres to 162,430 acres. Bearing acreage in the raisin and table grape categories fell from 271,161 acres to 269,602 and from 80,720 acres to 77,974, respectively.

Among wine varieties last year, there were 39,795 acres of recently planted or grafted acres (non-bearing acreage) due to come on line in the next three years. These non-bearing acres accounted for 12% of California’s 330,356-acre wine variety total. In recent years, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Zinfandel have been the dominant wine varieties planted, and these four varieties accounted for 84.6% of wine variety nonbearing acreage in 1990. To a lesser extent, Grenache, Pinot noir, and Sauvignon blanc have been favored by those making planting decisions in the past few years.

Overall, California grape yields were about normal in 1990. Last year’s yield of 8.01 tons per acre was slightly above the 1989 -1990 average of 7.92 tons per acre. Among major grape classifications, wine varieties averaged 7.52 tons per acre in 1990 compared to 7.55 in 1989, while the 1990 and 1989 per acre yields for table and raisin varieties were: table, 7.50 tons and 7.81 tons; and raisin, 8.68 tons and 9.48 tons. The raisin yield was well below the 9.40 per ton annual average of the previous five years. Looking ahead to this year’s crop there is some concern that the five-year drought will result in lower yields. Fortunately, heavy March rains lessened the likelihood that yields will fall dramatically, a prediction many were making in January and February.

At 5.6 million tons, the 1990 U.S. grape crop declined 5.8% – or more than 300,000 tons – compared to the 1989 U. S. grape harvest. Almost all the major grape growing states recorded lower production levels. California’s harvest-at 5.1 million tons-accounted for 91.5% of the U.S. total. In 1989, the California crop totalled 5.4 million tons. In 1990, Washington’s grape harvest, second in size to California-decreased 21.4% to 180,000 tons. In other key grape producing states: New York’s 1990 harvest of 144,000 tons fell 5.3% below its 152,000-ton crop of 1989; Pennsylvania’s crop (53,000 tons) fell 11.7%; and Michigan’s grape production (46,000 tons) increased 7%.

The 2.7-million-ton U.S. grape crush of 1990 declined 5.8% compared to 1989, and was 230,000 tons below the annual average crush of the previous two years. California’s 2.6-million-ton crush accounted for 95.7% of the U. S. total last year. Crush volume in New York and Washington accounted for 2% and 1.4% of the 1990 total, respectively.

California’s wine variety crush tonnage was about the same in 1990 (2.14 million tons) as in 1989 (2.15 million tons). Last year’s wine variety crush represented 83% of the total California grape crush, as the use of raisin and table grapes for crushing continues to decline. At 266,060 tons, raisin varieties fell 27.1% and accounted for only 10.3% of total crush tonnage. There has been a significant falloff in the use of raisin varieties for crushing in recent years. From 1981 to 1985, an average of 552,000 tons of raisin grapes per year were crushed, while during the past two years the average has fallen to 318,000 tons. Table varieties decreased from 211,204 tons in 1989 to 169,514 tons in 1990, a decline of 19.7%. The crush of Tokays fell 18.7% last year, marking the second consecutive year of steep decline for the variety. Table grapes represented 6.6% of all California grapes crushed in 1990.

On a volume basis, Colombard, Chenin blanc, and Thompsons remained the top three varieties crushed. Colombard, at 685,411 tons, accounted for over a quarter of the entire 1990 California crush. At 276,397 tons, Chenin blanc jumped ahead of Thompson into second place, while Thompson held down the third spot with a crush total of 226,660 tons. In the early 1980s, Thompson consistently ranked first in volume of tons crushed.

Although the combined volume of Colombard, Chenin blanc, and Thompson accounted for almost half the crush (46.2 ), the three varieties represented only 24.8% of the total value of all grapes crushed. The top three varieties by value were: Chardonnay, $191.5 million; Cabernet Sauvignon, $92 million; and Zinfandel, $76.6 million. As in 1989, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel combined accounted for over half of the total value of the 1990 California crush, while the three varieties’ share of crush volume amounted to only 17.5%. Chardonnay alone accounted for about 27% of the value of last year’s crush.

As might be expected, the average per ton price growers received for the top volume varieties was significantly lower than the prices received for premium varieties such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. The per ton price of Colombard fell 5.8%, from $151.46 in 1989 to $142.74 in 1990, while the prices for the other two top volume varieties were : Chenin blanc, down 4.8% (from $192.17 to $182.97); and Thompson, down 6.3%, (from $132.02 to $123.69).

In general, grape prices retreated slightly in 1990, after registering strong gains in 1989. Grower returns for all white varieties decreased 6.8%, from $296.72 per ton in 1989 to $276.50 in 1990. The average price for Chardonnay fell 7.9%, from $1,224.62 in 1989 to $1,128.33 in 1990. Considering the growth in the amount of Chardonnay crushed in recent years, the price decline was a modest one, indicating that the demand for Chardonnay wines was strong last year. Among other white varieties, the per ton price of Sauvignon blanc decreased 9.3% (from $571.19 to $518.28), and white Riesling fell 2.9% (from $521.21 to $502.16).

In 1990, the average per ton price for red varieties dropped 13% to $356.60. Cabernet Sauvignon decreased 5.3%, from $1,032.15 in 1989 to $977.16 in 1990. The Cabernet Sauvignon falloff was relatively small, as the 1990 price remained well above the $822.51 per ton price of 1988. Merlot and Pinot noir were among the few varieties which registered price increases in 1990. The per ton price of Merlot rose from $1,133.16 in 1989 to $1,220.35 in 1990. For the same years, Pinot noir prices increased from $797.93 to $846.16. The average per ton Zinfandel price dropped 28.3% to $391.34 last year, the second consecutive year of sharp decline, suggesting that, in the case of Zinfandel, supply is beginning to match or exceed demand.

The 1989 and 1990 average per ton prices of other red varieties with crush levels of 40,000 or more tons were: Barbera, $185.83 and $167.83; Carignane, $193.92 and $165.92; Grenache, $190.36 and $184.60; Rubired, $219.42 and $201.47; and Ruby Cabernet, $188.27 and $159.91.

The market for raisins has been healthy in recent years. A total of 369,700 tons of raisins were shipped during the 1989 crop year (ending July 31, 1990), the second highest annual total in the past decade; moreover, raisin exports have increased in each of the past seven years, and totalled 116,000 tons last year. The fresh weight per ton price of raisin grapes was $200 last year, and has averaged $214 over the past two years. In 1983, the fresh weight price for raisin grapes hit a decade low of $132 per ton.

In 1990, 739,000 tons of fresh grapes were harvested in California. The average per ton grower return for these grapes was $523, a decrease compared to 1989’s price of $592, but well above the $493 average of 1988. As with wine and raisins, fresh grapes are also prospering in the export market. Export sales rose from 66,300 tons in 1989 to over 75,000 tons last year. More and more, grapes and grape products are finding success in the international marketplace. TABULAR DATA OMITTED

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