Price pressures pop the cork on cost of Central Coast wine

San Luis Obispo County labels are poised to become more expensive

stacydaniel@thetribunenews.comMarch 15, 2012 

Wine connoisseurs, take note: Central Coast vintages will become more expensive because of a grape shortage, experts said Thursday at the 18th annual Central Coast Insights wine symposium.

The principles of supply and demand were highlighted throughout the symposium as industry experts discussed the future of the Central Coast wine industry.

Wine grapes are San Luis Obispo County’s top crop, earning $173 million in sales in 2010, according to the latest annual crop report by the county Agricultural Commissioner’s Office.

“We have entered a period of shortage for all grapes,” said Matt Turrentine, an Atascadero-based broker who handles Central Coast sales for Turrentine Brokerage of Novato.

He was one of the featured speakers at the symposium, which drew several hundred people to the Embassy Suites Hotel in San Luis Obispo.

Sales and shipments of wine are up. But the past couple of years have yielded lighter crops, both locally and globally, and that has led to low inventories.

Prices remain strong, and experts say it will likely take at least four to six years to meaningfully increase the supply.

The weather has not been kind to the Central Coast region during the past couple of years. A severe frost last April and rains right before harvest left growers scrambling to get their fruit off the vines. But weather is not solely to blame for the shortage, according to Turrentine.

“The shortage is not a result of a light crop,” Turrentine said. “It is a structural shortage. It’s not a surprise. We’ve been predicting this for a long time. There are not enough grapes for everybody to get what they want, and new grapes haven’t been planted in about a decade.”

He added that consumers have been purchasing wine faster than it is being produced. As a result, Turrentine said, people can expect to start paying higher prices.

“They’ll be buying the same bottle but paying a little more for it,” Turrentine said.

He added that the shortage is likely to continue for an extended period.

In response, industry experts agreed the time has come for more grapes to be planted.

“The Central Coast is an excellent opportunity to invest in vineyards,” said Mark Couchman, president of Silverado Premium Properties.

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