North Coast wine grape harvest hits record $2B in 2018 as grape, bulk-wine markets cool in 2019

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California wine grape growers and wineries knew the 2018 harvest was huge, and now we know just how big. Like the state overall, the North Coast wine grape harvest last year set new records in tonnage and pricing, according to figures released Wednesday.

The value of North Coast crop reached $2.01 billion last year, up about one-third from the previous high point of $1.5 billion in 2017, based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties. The weighted-average price for the four counties was $3,407 a ton, up by about 5% from 2017 and on a five-year compounding annual average.

Last year’s price growth was propelled by continued increases for Napa County cabernet sauvignon that pushed wine grape revenue for the county's grapes over $1 billion for the first time, even if tempered by the first pullback in pricing for Sonoma County pinot noir grapes in a decade, according to the grape crush report.

Wineries crushed 588,864 tons from North Coast vineyards last year, according to the report. That was up nearly 26% from 2017 and 18.0% above the five-year average. The 2018 California wine grape crop topped 4.281 million tons, up about 7% from 2017 tonnage and the five-year average as well as beating the previous bumper crop of 4.25 million tons in 2013.

The highly anticipated annual grape crush report is a benchmark for negotiations between growers and vintners on tons sought and prices per ton to be paid. But concerns about the ability to sell the now 8.3 million more cases of wine from the region has started a shift from years of vintners’ buying much of what’s available from vineyards in premium regions to feed projected growth in sales of bottled fine wine, according to market experts.

Grape-market watchers had been expecting the 2018 California crop to be big in the weeks leading up to harvest last fall, particularly for top varieties of grapes in premium coastal areas, according to Brian Clements of Turrentine Brokerage in Novato.

“When you figure in the feeling of slowing case sales, it’s, ‘Oh, my gosh!’” Clements said.

Figures for western Solano County vineyards also in the North Coast winegrowing region weren’t available.

Correction: The grape revenue figure for the North Coast was $2.01 billion in 2018.

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