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Napa Valley Vineyard Development

In 1981, Napa Valley became the first area of California to be designated an American Viticultural Area (AVA). It currently contains ~10% of California’s vineyard area and is probably America’s best known wine region.

Napa-Winegrape-Vineyard-AreThe reported vineyard area of Napa Valley in 1990, according to USDA NASS, totalled 33,194 ha, of which 84.2% were bearing.  Additional vineyard planting reached a peak in the late 1990s, but since 2006 the total vineyard has plateaued at around 46,000 ha.

Napa-Black-Vineyard-AreaThe path to 46,000 ha has been brought about by quite distinct planting histories for black and white winegrape cultivars.  Black cultivars totalled 18,053 ha (81% bearing) in 1990 and increased in every year up until 2006 when a maximum of 35,174 ha (96% bearing) was reported.  Since then the black vineyard has plateaued at just under 35,000 ha, with only very small amounts of non-bearing acreage.  With Napa vines typically being replaced after 20-30 years, the current low levels of planting will need to enhanced if a decline of the black vineyard area is to be avoided.

Napa-White-Vineyard-AreaWhite winegrape cultivars totalled 15,141 ha (88% bearing) in 1990 and have been in consistent decline until 2005 when a low of 10,482 ha (97% bearing) was reported.  Since then they have reportedly plateaued at close to 11,000 ha, but again with non-sustainable amounts of non-bearing vines.

Napa-Vineyard-by-ColourThe overall effect of these differing histories has been for Napa Valley to move from a vineyard which comprised 54% black cultivars in 1990, to one in where in 2006 they comprised 77% ot the total vineyard.  Since then the ratio of black to white cultivars has remained more or less unchanged suggesting, perhaps, that winegrowers are content with the current cultivar mix.  The current low level of non-bearing vineyard implies that unless additional vines are planted soon a decline in the productive vineyard area is inevitable.


Five Things Worth Knowing About the Texas Wine Industry

Texas wine is not very well known outside of the Lone Star State and there is precious little awareness of it outside of the US.  This may be about to change as increased investment, the entry of new entrepreneurs and more suitable cultivars are moving the industry forward.  So with exciting times ahead, here are five things worth knowing now about the Texas Wine Industry.

1.  The Number of Texas Wineries is Increasing Rapidly

Texas-Wineries According to the Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association, in January 2013 there were 273 registered wineries in Texas.  Ten years previously there were only 54. Expansion of the number of Texas wineries has really taken off since the beginning of the 21st century.

2. Texas Grape Production Has Not Increased This Century

Texas-Grapes-UtilizedLimited vineyard planting (see below), Pierce’s Disease and unfavourable climatic conditions (2011 drought; 2012 Spring freeze) have together created a situation in which Texas grape production has been not expanded in line with demand. For some years now there has been a shortage of Texas grapes.

3. More Texas Vineyard is About to Come Into Production

Texas-Vineyard-AreaThe recently released 2012 USDA Agricultural Census of Texas has shown a large increase in the amount non-bearing vineyard, reflecting a significant amount of new vineyard planting since 2010. These non-bearing vineyards should be bearing in 2014 or 2015, which will roughly double the amount of bearing vineyard and hence grape production capacity.  With additional vineyards still being planted, it shouldn’t be too long before the Texas vineyard exceeds 10,000 acres.

4. With Limited Texan Grapes, Winemakers Are Using Californian Grapes

While some Texan wineries are able to source sufficient Texan grapes for their needs, most cannot.  Aided by a laissez-faire attitude towards labelling, winemakers are currently able to describe their product as “Texan wine” providing a minimum of 25% of the juice is from Texan grapes (Mariani, 2013).  That leaves an awful lot of leeway for using out of state grapes in Texas wine.  If you want to be certain that the wine in your glass originated with largely Texan grapes, then stick to those from one of the eight designated AVA regions of Texas.  A wine with an AVA designation guarantees that at least 85% of the wine’s grapes were grown within the AVA.

5. Texas is Still Discovering the Best Varietal Match to Terroir

Texas-Cultivar-Area-2010The modern Texas wine industry is arguably less than 50 years old, which isn’t a lot of time to determine which type of grapes grow best in which area.  The most recent USDA_NASS Texas Grape Survey showed that although Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay were the two most planted grape cultivars, neither occupied more than 20% of the bearing vineyard.  A great variety of black and white cultivars are currently being grown, some in small amounts on experimental plots.  It will take several years, or perhaps decades, before the most appropriate mix of cultivars for Texas’ different terroirs is adequately determined.

Thanks to Natalia Velikova of The Texas Wine Marketing Research Institute for advising on available data sources


Oregon Wine Grape Vineyard Reaches 10,000 ha – 60% Pinot Noir

The Oregon Wine Board is the agency responsible for supporting and promoting the wine grape and wine industries in Oregon.  They also have a research and educational role and serve as a central depository for Oregon State wine industry statistics.

Oregon-vineyard-area-by-colThey have recently published the results of the 2012 Oregon Vineyard and Winery Census (PDF), which on this occasion was compiled by the Southern Oregon University Research Center (SOURCE).  It itself includes a wealth of information but, when combined with previous Annual Vineyard Reports by the US National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), shows the extent of the industry’s growth over the past 30 years.

The total Oregon wine vineyard was estimated to be 10,306 ha in 2012 – the first time that Oregon has broken the ten thousand hectare mark.  This represents a significant jump from the reported figures for 2011 (8,262 ha).  The change is due not only to the planting of new vineyard, but to a change in the census approach taken by SOURCE compared to NASS, which probably now makes the census slightly more complete.  Until 1998 white cultivars occupied a greater share of the Oregon wine vineyard than black cultivars. The latter have continued to occupy an increasing proportion of the total vineyard since 1998 as the white vineyard area has shown only very slow growth.  In 2012 black cultivars made up 74% of the Oregon wine vineyard.

Oregon-major-varietalsThe expansion of the black grape section of the Oregon vineyard is almost entirely due to extra plantings of Pinot Noir.  Unlike Washington where a number of different cultivars each occupy a significant share of the total vineyard, here Pinot Noir (6,224 ha) alone makes up 60% of the total vineyard.  Other cultivars are very much overshadowed, with Pinot Gris (1,388 ha) being the next most planted, having taken the second place spot from Chardonnay in 2000.

To put the area of Oregon Pinot Noir in context, the total Pinot Noir in some other New World countries in 2012 was estimated as follows: Australia (4,767 ha), Chile (3,500 ha), New Zealand (5,388 ha).  Oregon’s Pinot powerhouse looks set to play an increasingly important role in supplying Pinotphiles, both in the US and overseas.

The Washington State Wine Grape Crush

As well as growing grapes for juice and jelly, Washington is the second largest wine grape producing state of the U.S.  It produces wine at a variety of price points, but a number of producers aspire for it to be recognised as a premium wine region.  This is an area which is experiencing growth and where growers are adapting to find the most suitable (and profitable) mix of grape varietals.

Washington-wine-grape-crushIn 1993, wine grapes in Washington occupied a total of 4,496 ha, of which 36% were black and 64% white. By 2011 the total vineyard area was 17,745 ha of which black varietals now represented 57% of the total wine grape area.  These changes to the vineyard have had a marked effect on the harvest and crush.

Most obviously, the size of the crush has increased.  In 2000 the Washington crush totalled 81,600 metric tonnes (t), it reached a record breaking 170,500 t in 2012 and is expected to be larger still in 2013.  Another significant change has been in the ratio of black to white grapes, with 2012 being the first year that black grapes crushed exceeded that of whites.

Washington-white-grape-pricOf Washington’s white grapes, Chardonnay has historically commanded a significant price premium, but since 2002 its price has converged with the other major white grape cultivars.   These have all stabilised at an average price of US$600-800 per metric tonne (t), representing an average decline in real terms over the past ten years.  An emphasis on grape (and wine) quality and increased marketing efforts will probably be required if future price increases of white grapes in real terms are to be achieved.  Washington Reislings may be very well respected by critics, but this is a varietal that still struggles to obtain widespread consumer acceptance.


The average price of black grapes over the last ten years has risen steadily and in 2012 was in the range of US$1,000-1,300 per metric tonne for the major cultivars.  Lower yields are typically obtained for black compared to white grapes.  In Washington’s 2011 crush, the black grape yield was 6.9 t/ha compared to 10.9 t/ha for white grapes.  When yields are taken into account, the price differential between black and white grapes seems somewhat less dramatic.

If 2013 does indeed prove to be a bumper crop for Washington State, perhaps wine lovers outside the US will soon have more of a chance to drink some of the increasingly sophisticated wines being produced in this underrated wine region.  The 2012 entry of E&J Gallo into the Washington wine scene (via their purchase of Columbia Winery) might just hasten Washington’s bid to receive a deserved wider audience.