Food & Drink

SLO County wine grape production hurt by weather in 2011

A whopping 35 percent fewer wine grapes were crushed in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties in 2011 compared with 2010, due in large part to wildly unpredictable weather, according to the preliminary California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Grape Crush Report released Friday.

More than 3.34 million tons of grapes were crushed statewide, compared with 2010, when 3.59 million tons were crushed.

Nearly 157,000 tons were harvested last fall in District 8, which includes San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

“This isn’t a shocker. It’s what we expected,” said broker Matt Turrentine, who handles Central Coast sales for Turrentine Brokerage, based in Novato.

“We got hammered in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. We had a severe frost event in April and inopportune rains right before harvest. It was a challenging year from every perspective,” he said.

As a result, consumers can expect to pay more.

“This lighter crop comes at a time when levels (of wine grape supplies) are at record lows. It’s going to drive up prices for bulk wine and grapes and ultimately for consumers,” Turrentine said.

For the major varietals in District 8, prices ranged from $833 per ton for merlot to $1,055 for cabernet sauvignon, $1,198.00 for chardonnay and $2,695 for pinot noir.

Statewide, the average price per ton among all wine grapes crushed in 2011 hit a record high of $588.96 per ton, up 8 percent from 2010 and 3 percent above the previous record set in 2009.

As for the quality of the wine that last year’s crush produced, Turrentine said, “It’s there.”

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

The state’s final crush report is expected to be released March 9.