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California wine grape harvest shows signs of shortage

Wine There are times in agriculture when too little crop can mean a good thing for farmers and food producers but discouraging news for consumers.

This is where California’s wine industry is now, according to a recent report by researchers at UC Davis’ Graduate School of Management.

After California’s wine industry struggled to deal with a glut of grapes in 2003-04, a number of vineyards and growers went out of business because they had too much of a good thing. Now there are signs of a shortage of wine grapes.

Blame it on the weather, say researchers. Last spring northern California vineyards struggled through hard rain and a freeze. That, in turn, meant that the weather wasn’t conducive for the plants to get a good start on growing this season's grapes.

Now, as harvest begins, farmers are finding that the grapes are coming in a bit light, said Robert Smiley, director of wine studies at UC Davis.

“Depending on who’s counting and which varietal you’re talking about, you’re seeing [the crop] short about 20% to 30% statewide,” said Smiley, dean and professor of management, emeritus, at Davis’ graduate school of management.

“Going forward, that means consumers will likely see fewer wine discounts” on California wines because of the shortage in the crop, Smiley said. “If you don’t have enough product to meet demand, why cut price? You’re going to see the industry’s pricing tighten up.”

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: Wine stockpiles at a Costco warehouse. Credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times

 
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