House passes bill that aids Lake, Mendocino county grape growers

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House passes bill to help grape growers

The U.S. House on Jan. 16 passed legislation that would allow North Coast grape growers to tap emergency funding to compensate them for losses incurred because of smoke taint in 2018.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, offered an amendment to the overall legislation that would allow growers in Lake and Mendocino counties to be eligible for federal funding. Growers in those areas had their grapes rejected by wineries during last year’s harvest because of smoke damage to their crop from the Mendocino Complex fires in the summer.

“People who have survived devastating disasters, like the fires our district has endured over the last several years, deserve to know their government is fighting to help them recover,” Thompson said in a prepared statement.

According to a survey by the Lake County Winegrape Commission, Lake County growers lost at least $37.1 million from smoke-tainted grapes from the 2018 crop. The 2017 crop was valued at $84 million before those grapes were turned into wine.

US wineries made 8.2% pretax profits

Despite an overall sales slowdown, premium wineries had on average a pretax profit of 8.2 percent for most of 2018, according to a report released by Silicon Valley Bank.

“I question if premiumization is a long-lived phenomenon for the wine industry,” said Rob McMillan, founder of Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division and author of the Jan. 16 report.

McMillan said the 2018 profit was a decrease from higher levels recorded over the past five years.

The wine industry has seen overall consumption increase steadily since 1994 in the aftermath of publicity over the French Paradox, research that showed moderate drinking helped in reducing heart disease. But recent reports have shown a leveling off in overall consumption, though the premium market has fared better.

For example, premium wineries surveyed in the report had a gross margin of 56 percent from September of 2017 to September of 2018.

Many of them are located in the North Coast. They also reported a 5.2 percent sales growth during the same time period.

Truett-Hurst names new winemaker

Truett-Hurst Inc. has promoted Ross Reedy as director of winemaking for the Healdsburg winery as it focuses on its direct-to-consumer business. He previously served as associate winemaker.

Reedy will be in charge of winemaking at the Truett-Hurst brand, as well as its sister label, VML, which was founded by Ginny Lambrix and made a name locally by focusing on Russian River Valley pinot noir.

“Ross is a phenomenal winemaker who has a unique feel for tending to the natural expression of each of his blends. I am very proud of his accomplishments over the past seven years as assistant winemaker with us and look forward to working together with Ross in this new role,” Paul Dolan, the company’s CEO, said in a prepared statement.

In another move, Truett-Hurst announced on Jan. 14 that it would buy back 1 million shares of its stock at a price of $2.40 per share. It was at $1.81 per share when the company made the announcement.

Compiled by Bill Swindell. Submit items to bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com.

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