Prices for Calaveras County grapes dropped during last year’s harvest, but they’re still well above other parts of the state.
That’s according to figures from the state’s annual Grape Crush Preliminary Report, issued Monday.
The state is divided into 17 districts, and Calaveras is part of District 10, which also includes Amador, El Dorado, Mariposa, Nevada, Placer, and Tuolumne counties.
The amount of red wine grapes harvested in 2002 was up in District 10 – jumping from 13,805 tons in 2001 to 14,366 tons last year.
White wine grapes were down, slipping from 2,132 tons harvested in 2001 to 1,914 tons last year.
Prices were down for both red and white grapes.
A ton of white wine grapes went for $915.91 last year – down from $1,031 in 2001 and $1,023 in 2000.
Red wine grapes fetched $1,052.38 per ton last year, compared to $1,112 in 2001 and $1,066 in 2000.
Local wine experts aren’t too concerned about the drop.
“I don’t think that’s a significant softening,” said Gary Zucca, owner of Zucca Mountain Winery and president of the Calaveras Wine Association.
Steven Kautz, president of Kautz Ironstone Vineyards, said the money figures are not entirely accurate, and represent some new vineyards selling grapes for the first time that may not have had the quality of those from more established vineyards.
Zucca added that the lower prices are going to local growers who sell their grapes in other parts of the state.
Prices in the Sierra foothills certainly surpass other districts of the state, such as those in the south Central Valley.
The average price of white wine grapes there ranged from $134.78 to $147.34 per ton, and $188.03 $190.74 per ton for red wine grapes.
“It’s a battle out there,” Kautz said of the present state of the industry, buffeted by an overabundance of domestic wine, and a glut of cheaper imported vintages.
The consolidation of the industry by major corporations also hurts the smaller vintner and distributor.
A retailer is going to be more inclined to deal with a wholesaler who can deliver a variety of products – domestic and imported wines as wells as bourbon and other beverages, Kautz said.
Both winery owners believe the industry is in a transition.
“We’re in for a turbulent five years before this settles out,” Kautz said.
But they also believe Calaveras County will be somewhat protected from the damage other areas might sustain.
Small wineries that sell mainly out of their tasting rooms should weather the crisis, Zucca said.
“We’re in the tourist business,” he said.
Kautz echoed that senti-ment, noting that the foothill region still produces wine in small enough quantities it can use up its inventory and continue to grow from year to year.
And the region has a chance to develop over other so-called high-end areas where the consumer is charged for tasting and the cheapest wine is $30 a bottle, Kautz said.
Tourists want to be able to relate to the winemaker and talk to the owner, he added.
The next five years present a wonderful opportunity for the area to grow, as long as winemakers focus on quality and keep the product reasona-bly priced at $25 or less a bottle, Kautz said.
That may explain why, while Central Valley growers are ripping out vineyards, foothill residents are still planting them.
Kautz and Zucca urged cau-tion, though, for anyone contemplating going into the grape-growing business.
Zucca’s main advice to po-tential growers is to find a market first and line up a contract with a winery.
Kautz said a grower needs to define his goal and decide if he wants to put a few cases up and start his own winery, or work directly with an established winery to develop a specific variety.
“Overall, if we keep on course and this area keeps its focus and doesn’t try to get too big for its britches, there’s opportunity to grow over the next five years,” Kautz said.
Contact Craig Koscho at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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