Nick Frey awardees

Consumer demand still good, but slowing; prices at record highs

The state of the local wine industry continues to be strong with promises of good times for grape growers and stable winegrape prices heading into another year. But, as with all farming endeavors, industry experts last week inserted cautionary remarks in their presentations at the Sonoma County Winegrowers 27th annual Dollars and Sense seminar and tradeshow.

“There’s not a yellow caution flag out there yet,” said Brian Clements, of Turrentine Grape Brokerage, “but I would urge everyone (growers) to contract smartly.”

Clements and other speakers all predicted a great market for selling Sonoma County grapes and finished wines during 2018, with a strong consumer demand and profitable prices at all levels of the premium wine market.

About the only dark cloud foreseen was the potential impact of misinformed publicity about the North Bay wildfire impact on the 2017 vintage. Winegrowers president Karissa Kruse and others warned that more marketing work would be needed to counter the false news about smoke-tainted wines and losses of crop.

“It’s true some people lost houses and worse, but the vineyards and overall industry was barely touched,” said Clements.

The winegrowers saluted the 547 individuals who contributed a total of $700,000 to fire relief efforts throughout Sonoma County as awardees of the annual Nick Frey Community Contribution Award.

Kruse announced that 72 percent of the Winegrowers’ 1,800 members had achieved sustainable agriculture certification, up from 60 percent the previous year. It also was announced that the winegrowers have partnered with Sonoma State University to raise $220,000 for wine industry student scholarships after awarding 600 scholarships last year totaling $100,000.

Sonoma County grape growers compete in international markets to sell their crops and continue to face increased competition from other regions such as Oregon, Central Coast, New Zealand and beyond.

Rob McMillan, of Silicon Valley Bank, reminded the local growers they are in a business and marketplace with very long business curves. He pointed out that the past few years of heavy harvest yields and strong consumer demands are probably getting ready to change and trend down.

“Right now is great for growers but very tough on wineries,” added Clements. At the same time both men predicted record high prices in 2018 for Sonoma County pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon grapes.

Sonoma County has almost 60,000 acres of winegrape vineyards that produced $568 million in growers’ sales in 2016.

A big part of the Winegrowers group mission rests in marketing. Last week they launched a new wine bottle logo designating wines made from sustainably farmed grapes which will debut on Ferrari-Carano and Dutton Estate wines this year.

“We’re growing the future,” and “Love the land and the land loves you” are parts of the group’s marketing messages for the new year. The largest portion of the 1,800-member group are represented by smaller-sized vineyard owners and family businesses.

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