Biz Buzz: Tough market for grape growers

While some have described this year’s harvest as “abysmal” in some higher-priced regions to the north, one local broker said the Central Coast is faring better overall in its spot market grape sales.

“The market for wine grapes has been tough again this year,” said Matt Turrentine, who lives in Atascadero and oversees San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties for Turrentine Brokerage.

Based in Novato, the firm has handled more than $1 billion in transactions in the last 10 years.

“The recession has caused consumers to purchase less expensive wine, and wineries are struggling to control their costs so they can provide this value-priced wine to their customers,” he added. “With only a handful of exceptions, most small wineries producing wines over $20 a bottle are reducing their production.”

The harvest in San Luis Obispo County is roughly 70 percent complete, Turrentine estimated.

“Most growers in this area sold their grapes prior to the harvest, but not at the prices they were hoping for,” he said. “Many tons of high-quality grapes from San Luis Obispo County will end up in $6 to $10 bottles carrying the more generic ‘California’ appellation.”

That price point means losses for most Central Coast vineyards, the bulk of whom have typically fed labels in the $12 to $20 range. On the other hand, the downward price trend has been a boon for Central Valley growers, who can operate at lower costs.

Since Kevin Rankin purchased the Paso Wine Centre in June, the Park Street shop has been mentioned in Wine Spectator, Orange Coast Magazine and Sunset magazine.

Its former owner, Ryan Broersma, sold the business to focus more time on his nonprofit organization, Wine for Water, which provides clean water to villages in Ethiopia.

Rankin relocated from Pasadena. Formerly in the telecommunications, fiber-optics and laser industries, he was a wine fan looking to change his lifestyle by buying a Paso Robles business.

With wood and support from Halter Ranch Vineyard and Denner Vineyards, Rankin redesigned the Paso Robles tasting bar to feature “community tables.”

He crafted two long and narrow slabs — just 24 inches wide — to promote mingling among strangers.

Paso Wine Centre serves 48 wines from the area.

“I meet phenomenal people in the wine industry,” Rankin said. “It kept blowing me away, all of the generosity people were showing.”

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