The 2008 California winegrape harvest brought in an estimated 3.05 million tons, down 6 percent from 3.25 million winegrape tons crushed in 2007, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.


The figures were part of the Sacramento-based department's preliminary crush report. It plans to issue a final report in about a month.


Officials blame the lighter yields on below-normal rainfall, an extended April frost that hit many growing regions of the state, followed by mild summer and fall temperatures with no rain, according to a news release from the San Francisco-based Wine Institute.


Berry sizes were small, but overall quality was "excellent," according to the report.


The total crush of wine, raisin and table varieties was 3.67 million tons.


“We are well under expected yields for the third straight year," says Tom Rinaldi, director of winemaking at Hewitt/Provenance Vineyards in Rutherford. "Lighter than normal with lighter cluster weights and smaller clusters. “Overall, we are pleased with the deep colors, variety of flavors, nice balance, elegant style, and rarity of the wines.”  


The shorter crop also should help right supply and demand equation, which had been unbalanced since the record crop of 2005 flooded the market.


“California has had three moderate to light crops since the record 2005 harvest, which has put the supply/demand cycle in a balanced position, given the inventory that we have at our brokerage,” says Glenn Proctor of Ciatti Company in San Rafael.  “The industry is continuing to drive the quality/value quotient to produce a flavor profile and price point that consumers like and accept.”


Bill Turrentine of Turrentine Brokerage in Novato agrees. 


“The last two times we have gone into a recession, the wine business has been in a state of oversupply," he says. "This time the situation is much better. Growing sales and a lack of new planting have drained excess supplies, and inventories are in relative balance."
 
The volume growth of California shipments slowed, but still increased 2 percent last year to an estimated 196.3 million cases, according to preliminary numbers presented by wine industry consultant Jon Fredrikson of Gomberg-Fredrikson & Associates at the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium last month.


Copies of the preliminary crush report are available at http://www.nass.usda.gov.

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