Harvest season is underway and that should be a festive time for everyone in the Napa Valley. But that may not be the case. I spent the last two days in the Napa Valley driving from Napa to Calistoga, hitting the crossroads, doing some photography and of course wine tasting. During my travels I spotted some troubling signs that the recession is taking its toll on the Napa Valley wine industry. I’ve read the reports and watched news segments indicating that hard times are ahead for wineries and growers, but until you see some concrete examples it’s hard to judge the reality of those reports.
For the first time since traveling to the wine country I saw a sign in front of a vineyard by Whitehall Lane in Rutherford that read “20 plus Tons of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes for sale.” Wow, I thought, here we are 4 to 6 weeks away from harvesting these grapes and this vineyard as of Thursday, August 20, 2009 had no buyers. Out of curiosity, I called the phone number on the sign and talked to a person who did not want to identify himself. Last year he said these grapes sold for $4100 a ton and were purchased by V. Sattui Winery. This year V. Sattui has decided not to buy these grapes and now the grower is left holding the bag, so to speak. At this late date this grower is desperate enough to put out the sale sign in hopes of selling the nearly 7 acres of grapes by harvest time. By the way, the person on the phone told me that this vineyard is just one of many in the Valley in the same situation.
Later that day, I visited Doug Boeschen, owner and winemaker at Boeschen Vineyards. Doug stated he has seen other grapes for sale and he believes there is going to be a lot of unsold fruit at the end of harvest. Does that translate into a shortage of wine 2 to 3 years down the road?
Adding to the misery of the growers who can’t sell their grapes are those who want to sell entire vineyards. I came across three, yes three, different “For Sale” signs by real estate companies posted on plots of vineyards. Apparently these vineyard owners are in a financial state where they need to get out now. Aren’t vineyard sales usually handled behind the scenes? The last time I viewed a plot of vineyards for sale was about 40 years ago and I mused then, if I’d had $20,000 I could have bought those 26 acres of vines.
What is next? Will I be driving along Highway 29 and see a sign outside a winery that reads, “This Winery is For Sale?”