After disastrous 2020, Sonoma County grape growers face a hopeful, uncertain harvest

When the tally is final, county grape growers are expected to have lost as much as 30% of their 2020 crop — valued around $150 million — that was left unpicked on the vines because of smoke damage from wildfires.|

After a disastrous 2020, Sonoma County grape growers should find a stronger appetite for their crops this year, though there’s still uncertainty, a top wine industry analyst said Thursday.

“We think activity is going to be better,” said Glenn Proctor, a partner at Ciatti Co., a Novato grape and wine broker, but tamping down expectations, saying “some buyers (wineries) still have a little too much inventory even with the lighter 2020 crop.”

Proctor made his remarks during a virtual rendition of Sonoma County Winegrowers annual Dollar and Sense trade show.

When the tally is final, county grape growers are expected to have lost as much as 30% of their 2020 crop — valued around $150 million based on recent grape price averages — that was left unpicked on the vines because of smoke damage from wildfires. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will report preliminary figures for the 2020 crop on Feb. 10.

Most local growers have recouped much of last year’s losses through crop insurance. Overall, an estimated 50,000 less tons of grapes harvested last year countywide will help restore a more even wine market, easing the oversupply of wine due to declining sales.

With the notable exception of chardonnay, Proctor said top grape varieties will show a significant drop in 2020 tonnage based on his research from growers. He estimated the pinot noir crop — the county’s most expensive grape — will be at 30,000 tons for last year’s harvest, a steep drop from 50,000 tons in the 2018 bumper crop. Cabernet sauvignon grapes should weigh in at 38,000 tons last year, a smaller decline from the mid-40,000 ton range in previous years.

Amid the 2020 fires, the bulk wine market in California wine saw a significant shift as high inventory, especially for cabernet sauvignon, was depleted, Proctor said. That has resulted in more buyers coming into the market looking for grapes this year.

Furthermore, Sonoma County growers may see more winery buyers from out of the area seeking grapes, but Proctor cautioned growers they will likely have to be flexible in their pricing.

“I think buyers are going to have some needs for supply,” he said. “I definitely don’t think this is a time to draw a line in the sand and say this is my price or I’m walking.”

The winegrowers trade group also announced Thursday it is launching a new program to pair local growers with entrepreneurs and scientists who have new technology to help grow a more sustainable grape crop.

Trade group President Karissa Kruse compared it to the “Shark Tank” television program that matches financial backers with new product developers.

“We want to motivate creative solutions to the various challenges facing our industry now and in the future, such as water use, habitat protection, climate adaptation and more,” Kruse said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or On Twitter @BillSwindell

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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