Friday, March 27, 2009

The 2008 Crush...a paradox for Paso Robles AVA

In the Steve Heimoff blog from one week ago, "Observations of the 2008 final grape crush," several interesting statistics were discussed. First was that the 2008 crop in tons, essentially equaled the 2007 crop, and second, that in terms of tons crushed/ variety, Cabernet Sauvignon was only ranked 4th, behind Chardonnay, Thompson's seedless(yes, that's right), and Zinfandel. As an aside, Napa Cab grapes price increased only 5%.

These are statewide stats which afford an overview of the 2008 crush. If one were to ask any of my Paso Robles neighbors, however, one would get an entirely different picture than the statewide results. Quite frankly, I was stunned by them; the following is a response to the Steve Heimoff Blog:

Altho I tend to be a lumper rather than a splitter, "lumping" is a bit difficult when looking at grape reports. Just as individual vineyards may have totally different microclimates from a vineyard two hills over, price of grapes/Ton really should be split up between high end (low yield Tons/acre) and lower end (high yield Tons/acre). There is a grower 50 miles east of Paso Robles who several years ago sold his grapes exclusively into the Japanese market, and got only $300/Ton for his Cab. However, he machine pre-prunes, machine harvests, AND hangs 12(yes, twelve) Tons/acre. He was happy as a clam with that in that his per acre costs ran about only $150/Ton. We, and many folks around us in the Templeton Gap area of southern Paso Robles AVA, hang Cab between 1-2.5 Tons/acre, and garner $31oo/Ton for Cab and up. Pinot Noir in the cool to cold valleys of the Templeton Gap last year sold from between $3000 to $3500/Ton, and in the south county of SLO, I heard of $4000 to $4500/Ton( tho this is NOT first hand knowledge).

So not only location, but also grower mentality(ie, high yield vs low) plays a big part in this. That is what makes the crush totals so tough to interpret. Frankly, it would be very helpful if the crush totals broke down the yields into under 3T/acre and over 3T/acre. Some of us nutty people hang 1-2.5 Tons/acre, but that is where great wines come from. Real terroir, incidentally, generally tends to be found in the lower yielding vineyards. Obviously this is a generality, but it holds pretty much true. As for our Paso Robles AVA, our average yields were 50% of normal last year, in large part due to a week in mid May of 105 -110 degrees, followed by May 21st with a 115 degree day...unfortunately, this occurred in the middle of bloom, which literally "cooked off" the unopened flower buds.

Also factored into the crush stats would have to be the high density plantings, eg.,
2300 vines/acre vs. 870 vines/acre on a traditional 5' X 10' planting. Here, lbs of fruit/vine would make a lot more sense to quantify, in that some vines may only have a handful of clusters/ vine. Crush stats do have their value, but one does have to know what exactly all the parameters are...which in some cases may skew the information so that it doesn't make sense.

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