Napa Valley producers are in an optimistic mood at the start of the 2012 harvest, as demand returns for the region's grapes and wines after a long period of struggle resulting from the 2008 financial crisis.
With grapes now starting to flow into winery tanks, members of Napa Valley Grapegrowers say that the 2012 vintage will be in contrast to last year – with its cool and wet harvest. “We’ve had warmer days and cooler nights, which make for a classic Napa Valley vintage – those cooler nights are a real signature of our coastal growing environment," said the association’s president, Jon Ruel.
News of a promising harvest coincides with more prosperous times for the premium grape-growing region.
Following the collapse of Lehmann Brothers and the onset of the global economic crisis, demand for ultra-premium wines slumped and many Napa Valley wineries and local grape growers battled to survive. John Wilkinson, owner of local custom-crush facility Bin to Bottle and a director of Napa Valley Grapegrowers, reported: “There’s an uptake in over-$20 wine sales and the ultra-premium wine category, and it is dramatic how much of a turnaround it has been.”
With consumers once again willing to trade up to more expensive wines, the good times are returning in the Valley, with grape vines and grapes in high demand.
“There’s renewed optimism from the marketplace and the real estate market," said John Conover, general manager and co-owner of Odette Estate, formed earlier this year after Plumpjack Estate purchased the former Steltzer Vineyards in the Stags Leap District. Odette is now planting five acres of the property’s fallow land in vines.
“There is lots of planting going on. We had to virtually beg for planting material here in the valley when we replanted in the spring,” Conover said at the recent Napa Valley Grapegrowers' conference.
As corroboration, Amy Warnock, viticulturist for Stagecoach Vineyard, reported that Californian nursery Sunridge has seen vine orders rise fourfold compared to five years ago. Demand is particularly high for merlot, with continued demand for petit verdot and malbec.
”Growers were having trouble selling their fruit a couple of years ago but the problem has just about gone away," said Wilkinson. “The growers are not only getting offers for their fruit that they might not have been getting in 2008 and 2009, but getting good prices."
Conover, too, noted this year's reversal in fortunes. “There were acres fallow here in Napa but now the story that there are 30 people lining up to buy your fruit is more common. Grape growers are now in a great position.”