Ciatti Co. Hoping for a Smaller Winegrapes Crop in 2017

Brexit Also A Concern for California Sellers

By Joanne Lui, Associate Editor

The Ciatti Company – a worldwide company headquartered in San Rafael, CA – has been in the wine, grape concentrate and spirit brokerage business since 1971. They are experts in the industry, and President Greg Livengood spoke to California Ag Today recently to give an update on this year’s harvest and prices around the globe.

Ciatti Co. President Greg Livengood
Ciatti Co. President Greg Livengood

“World supply is down a little bit this year from last. We saw some major weather events in the southern hemisphere to start out the year. … Starting in January in Argentina, we saw a fair amount of rain throughout the harvest. They were down a little over 30 percent from their three-million-ton average harvest and that really set the tone for South America,” Livengood said.

“Right behind that, the Chileans got going. They hit about the halfway point of their harvest when El Nino came and slapped them around a little bit. It rained very hard there – five major weather events – and their crop was down at least 20 percent, but in addition to that, they probably would have been down more, but they tried to salvage some of that fruit that suffered a lot of damage from the rain.”

According to Livengood, all of this may not affect pricing in California.

“It certainly helps to set a floor, a pricing floor, and that floor has come up,” Livengood said. “I don’t know that pricing necessarily will go in any direction here based on what happened down there, but … it’s a much more shallow dive that pricing could potentially take here if things go the wrong way.”

A real concern for California winemakers is actually Brexit – Britain’s exit from the European Union.

“ U.K.’s been a very good … market for wine. It is. They don’t grow a lot of their own so they’re buying it from everywhere else. It’s been a very good market for the U.S. The problem with Brexit is the economy. It’s the value of the pound, so the pound took a big hit when Brexit was announced. There’s concern it will take more of a hit. That decreases their buying power and that’s a concern for us here in the U.S. because our prices are generally a little bit higher than all of our competitors around the world,” Livengood said.

“We’re selling on the California name and we’re selling on quality and so as that consumer and as that retail buyer in the U.K. has less buying power, we do have concern that they may look for alternatives to California.”

Overall, Livengood actually hopes for a smaller crop worldwide because high crop yields in multiple years isn’t necessarily a good thing for the industry.

“You never want really long oversupply.  2013, worldwide, it was a bumper crop just about everywhere.  We had too much wine in ‘14 and ’15 … and it’s taken us almost three years to really eat through a lot of that inventory.  A shorter worldwide crop here in 16 is certainly something that we would welcome.”

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Wilson Vineyards Fully Mechanized

Mechanization is Future for Winegrapes

Ken Wilson, winegrape grower and owner of Wilson Vineyards in Clarksburg, just south of Sacramento, farms 12 different winegrape varieties and has been enjoying a productive season despite hot weather. Wilson’s top winegrape varieties are Chardonnay, Petite Sirah and Pinot Grigio (Italian), also known as Pinot Gris (French), and Chenin Blanc.

Presently, Wilson’s winegrapes are past veraison, a stage of ripening in the physical grape maturation cycle in which the berry starts to soften and take on sweetness and color. Veraison is an excellent phase for the winegrapes to be in at this point in the season.

Wilson elaborated, “Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are probably the furthest ahead, then Pinot Noir at 50 to 60%, and finally, Chardonnay around 30%. We’re getting good color and size now.”

Despite hot weather this year, Wilson says, “it hasn’t been too bad.” Most of his grapes are already contracted, and he anticipates a good vintage. “There are a couple of tons here and there, but [the winegrapes] have been pretty much sold out since early spring,” Wilson commented.

Wilson warned the higher cost of labor due to the recent minimum wage increase in California from $10 per hour currently to $15 in 2020. “We get pretty good winegrape prices. I’m not speaking for the district. I don’t know how some of these guys are going to survive,” he explained.

“We’re going to be forced into mechanization, and the wineries are just going to have to accept it. I think they are going to accept it, if they don’t want to pay [labor increases] anymore,” Wilson said.

Nevertheless, Wilson is more fortunate than some other growers because his vineyard is completely mechanized. “We’re 100 percent machine—other than a couple of special jobs where the winery who wants the grapes will pay for workers for hand harvest.

In comparison to Wilson Vineyards, vineyards in the Napa and Sonoma regions will experience significant wage increases because their winegrapes are hand-harvested. “The only hand harvesting we do amounts to less than one percent,” Wilson said.

Though Wilson evaluated this year’s crop as better than last year, “I think, overall, it is probably not much better than an average harvest, and yields may even be a little lighter than the average. I would say overall about 7.5 tons of winegrapes,” Wilson noted.

 

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Grape Commission Awards Education Grants

Schools in the table grape growing regions of California’s San Joaquin and Coachella valleys are benefiting from grants awarded this academic year.

In total, 36 education grants worth up to $750 were awarded by the California Table Grape Commission on behalf of California’s table grape growers. The funded projects will be implemented in the current academic year and will reach over 4,000 students.

“California’s table grape growers have been supporting local education for years,” said Kathleen Nave, president of the commission. “This program is one of the ways table grape growers give back to the communities in which they live and work.”

Examples of the projects include raised garden boxes for children with special needs, inspiring youth through chess and music, programming robots, growing grapes, and modern microscopy and cell metabolism.

The Innovation in Teaching education grant program was created in 1993 to support innovative educational projects in the table grape growing regions of California’s San Joaquin and Coachella valleys.

For more information, go to www.grapesfromcalifornia.com/EducationGrants.php.

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CDFA Announces Dates for PD/GWSS Winegrape Grower Referendum

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has announced important dates for this year’s vote on the continuation of the statewide Pierce’s Disease and Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter (PD/GWSS) winegrape assessment.

Current plans call for the ballots to be mailed to California’s winegrape growers on or about March 30, 2015. The ballots will be due back 30 days after mailing, although this date can be extended. The results of the vote will be announced about two weeks after the voting period concludes.

Since 2001, the PD/GWSS assessment has been one of the primary sources of funding for research on PD and its primary vector, the glassy-winged sharpshooter. In 2010 winegrape growers voted to not only continue the assessment but authorized the PD/GWSS Board to spend assessment funds for research and outreach on other pests and diseases that are serious threats to California winegrapes. Since then, the Board has designated the European grapevine moth, red blotch, vine mealybug, and brown marmorated stink bug as serious threats to winegrapes.

Growers (whether individuals or companies) who paid the assessment on grapes grown in 2014 are eligible to vote. Accordingly, growers will receive a ballot for each of the separate legal entities they represent.  Growers are urged to verify that the number of ballots they receive is correct and report any discrepancies to CDFA. Winegrape growers with any questions about the assessment can contact the CDFA Pierce’s Disease Control Program at (916) 900-5024. Questions about the referendum (including the number of ballots you received) should be directed to the CDFA Marketing Branch at (916) 900-5018.

The PD/GWSS winegrape assessment was established in July 2001 to support scientific research to find solutions to Pierce’s disease. The PD/GWSS Board, composed of winegrape growers, advises CDFA on the use of the assessment.

Pierce’s disease has no known cure and, left unchecked, could be devastating to the winegrape industry. A study released in 2009 by the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers estimated the total annual economic impact of California’s winegrape industry at $62 billion within the state and $122 billion nationally.

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Water Crisis Reducing Valley Fruit Production

The impact of the worsening drought can be seen in the expected drop in crop production.

Valley fruit production is down on many farms, but the lack of water isn’t the only factor causing the lower expectations.

The grape crop is ready for harvest in many Valley vineyards but there’s not nearly as much of the sweet fruit this year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects grape production in California to dip 9 percent.

“We came off two big years in both wine grapes and Thompson seedless, so those vines are taking a little bit of a rest,” said Nat Dibuduo with Allied Grape Growers. “The other factor is obviously the drought. We’ve got growers that lost wells or they’re minimizing their irrigations to stretch out the water they do have.”

Table olives fared even worse with the dry conditions. Production is expected to dip 45 percent statewide but as much as 60 percent in Tulare County. 

“When olive trees go into dormancy they need some good deep soil moisture and they didn’t get it,” said Adin Hester with the Olive Growers Council. “The lack of moisture is something that certainly exacerbated, number one. Number two, we’ve got growers that are just flat out of water.”

Peach production is down 4 percent. We’re seeing peach, olive and grape growers rip out orchards and vineyards to put in more profitable crops like almonds and pistachios.

“I think there’s going to be not only Thompson seedless grapes pulled out after this harvest but also wine grapes throughout the San Joaquin Valley because they’re not making money, and they see their neighbors are making money with any of the various nut crops,” said Dibuduo.

Dibuduo is worried about this year’s outlook. He says winery demand for Valley grapes has taken a big hit because of international competition. Some grapes, he says, might not get sold.

Other crops like pears, apples and rice are also down from a year ago.

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Kern County Ag Ranks Second in State, Fresno Drops to Third

Ruben J. Arroyo, Kern County Agricultural Commissioner reported the 2013 gross value of all agricultural commodities produced in the county was $6,769,855,590, according to the 2013 Kern County Agricultural Crop Report, representing an increase (6%) from the revised 2012 crop value ($6,352,061,100). Thus, Kern County ag ranks second in state, with Tulare ahead, and Fresno behind.

Kern County’s top five commodities for 2013 were Grapes, Almonds, Milk, Citrus and Cattle & Calves, which make up more than $4.6 Billion (68%) of the Total Value; with the top twenty commodities making up more than 94% of the Total Value. The 2013 Kern County Crop Report can be found on the Department of Agriculture and Measurement Standards website: www.kernag.com

Tulare County reported gross annual production in 2013 at $7.8 Billion, Fresno County, $6.4 Billion, and Monterey County, $4.38 Billion.

As predicted by many, including CaliforniaAgToday on July 15, 2014, Fresno County, long-time top ag county in the state—and in the nation—now ranks third in the state and has regressed in ag growth since 2011.

Les Wright, Fresno County Ag Commissioner, attributes much of the decrease to the water shortage, particularly exacerbated by a large part of the West Side being dependent on both state and federal surface water deliveries that have been curtailed by pumping restrictions due to the Endangered Species Act.

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CA Grape & Tree Fruit League Changes Name to California Fresh Fruit Association

The California Grape & Tree Fruit League announces it has officially changed its name to the California Fresh Fruit Association – an identity its members believe better defines the broad types of commodities it represents.

The California Fresh Fruit Association will formally present its new name to executive and legislative officials in Sacramento, CA during its Annual Fruit Delivery on Tuesday, August 12, 2014 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. And to celebrate this important milestone, an evening reception will follow with government officials and California Fresh Fruit Association members at Esquire Grill (1213 K St., Sacramento, CA) from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The membership-based organization is one of the oldest agricultural trade associations in California, dating back to1921 with the California Growers and Shippers Protective League and in 1936, with the California Grape Growers and Shippers Association. Together, these organizations merged into the California Grape & Tree Fruit League. Today marks another momentous occasion, as the association has become the California Fresh Fruit Association and continues to represent its members in all aspects of public policy.

The Association’s Strategic Planning Committee presented the possibility of a name change in 2013 upon the completion of its five-year strategic plan. Members were approached by the Board of Directors to consider a new name that would encompass more of the commodities it represents, such as fresh grapes, blueberries and deciduous tree fruits including: peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, pears, apples, cherries, figs, kiwis, pomegranates and persimmons. In summary, the Association represents the state’s permanent fresh fruit crops with the exception of citrus and avocados.

With support from the Board of Directors and the organization’s nearly 350 members, the California Fresh Fruit Association proceeds with business as usual under its new name, advocating for fresh fruit growers, shippers and marketers in Sacramento, CA and Washington, D.C. The California Fresh Fruit Association’s headquarters will remain in Fresno, CA.

“While undergoing a name change is no easy task, little has changed as we’ve made sure to continue with our responsibilities as usual,” said Barry Bedwell, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association. “As we began the process, we wanted to proceed with a name that accurately represents our members and the commodities they provide. We couldn’t be happier with our selection – California Fresh Fruit Association is exactly who we are and what we represent.”

 

About California Fresh Fruit Association

The California Fresh Fruit Association is the advocate for its members on a daily basis, which is made possible through the voluntary support of growers, shippers, marketers and associate members. The organization was created in 1936, mainly to negotiate railroad rates for shippers, and has since evolved into filling the industry’s need for public policy representation. Visit www.cafreshfruit.com or call (559) 226-6330 to learn more.

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Local California Table Grapes are Going Global

Harvesting California table grapes is going strong. Many different varieties are being picked, and boxed in the vineyard and sent to the cooler for market.CATableGrapes

“We’re harvesting in the San Joaquin Valley now, and just finishing up in the Coachella Valley,” said Kathleen Nave, President of the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission. “The grapes are moving quickly into the marketplace in the US, Canada and around the world.”

“Mother nature has been kind so far with respect to the quality and the weather.” said Nave.

California Table Grape Commission is implementing a Grapes From California marketing campaign to connect with consumers around the world, as well in the U.S., focusing on usage, or ways in which grapes are consumed, and health benefits.

“We have brand new television commercials airing on the Food Network,” said Nave, “and we have Food Network magazine ads in the U.S. and similar ads in other parts of the world,” she added.

Nave said that the state’s grape growers have been amazing, producing two record crops, back-to-back, and now maybe a third. “So in 2012, we crossed the 100 million-box mark for the first time, and in 2013 ,we took a very big, unexpected jump, to 117 million. Our estimate for 2014 is just slightly higher than last year’s estimate,” said Nave.

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Fresno County Crop Value Drops to $6.43 Billion

For the first time in history, Fresno County has two $1 billion crops, and for the first time in 11 years, grapes are not the #1 crop. Now almonds are the top crop produced in Fresno County with a value of $1.1 billion, with grapes coming in second at $1.03 billion. However, despite these highlights, Fresno County crop value in 2013  was $6.436 billion in gross production—a decrease of 2.28 percent of 2012.

Fresno Ag Commissioner Les Wright
Fresno Ag Commissioner Les Wright

As it stands now, Fresno County loses it’s #1 position as top agricultural county in the nation, dropping behind Tulare County, which recently announced a $7.8 billion 2013 crop year. It could get worse when Kern County releases their report in August.

“Much of the decrease can be attributed to the shortage of water,” said Les Wright, Fresno County Ag Commissioner. “The impacts of drought began to show on our 2012 crop report with decrease of 2.29 percent from 2011. Producers are feeling the affects of the water shortage more in 2014 than in the previous two yeas.”

Water shortages in Fresno County with a large part of the West Side dependent on both state and federal surface water deliveries have meant the annual crop report’s gross value of production has dropped three years in a row.

Details of the 2013 report include an increase of fresh vegetable production in 2013 by 3.8 percent in value led by garlic and fresh market tomatoes, while livestock and poultry decreased in value by more than 16 percent.

Field crops, representing barley, wheat, corn silage, cotton an alfalfa declined nearly 42 percent, while fruit and nut crops increased more than 8 percent.

Wright noted that Fresno County growers exported nearly 26,000 shipments to 99 different countries. “This tells us that we are still feeding the world,” said Wright.

“Once we get water back, we are going to see our ag economy rebound,” said Wright. “Just give the farmers water and they will do the rest.”

 

 

 

 

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CAWG Annual Meeting July 23-25

The Sacramento-based California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) Annual Meeting is July 23-25, in Carmel Valley, Monterey County. “It’s even more exciting because this is our 40th anniversary!” said Ron Lopp, communications manager for CAWG. “Forty years ago, CAWG was founded by a small number of winegrape growers,”

The event kicks off with a golf event on the 23rd, followed by a speaker program on the 24th and the CAWG Board of Directors meeting on the 25th.

“An important part of the event is recognizing the winegrower and the wine leader of the year,” noted Lopp. “This year, the grower of the year recipient is the Ledbetter Family, owners and operators of Vino Farms in Lodi. The Grower of the Year Award—an individual, family or company—represents an outstanding example of excellence in viticulture management, recognized by others for innovation and leadership in the industry. We are recognizing the main family members of the Ledbetters,” said Lopp.

The CAWG Leadership Award recipient,” Lopp stated, “is actually one of the founding members of CAWG, Richard Keene, a Mendocino winegrape grower and winemaker. He is the third recipient of the award,” said Lopp.