In mid-May, Allied Grape Growers completed our San Joaquin Valley bunch count survey for 2017. For each of the major varieties we have numerous sample ranches from Clarksburg and Lodi in the north, down to areas south of Fresno. At each vineyard, we sample the same set of vines each year for consistency. This bunch count is broken into regions as described in the table herein and as applicable for variety. Allied Grape Growers does not report annual bunch counts in the coastal regions due to the fact that most growers adjust their crop load significantly in those regions throughout the growing season to meet winery expectations for cropload and quality.

The summary data included in the table herein represents average bunch counts for the San Joaquin Valley compared to the previous year as well as the ten-year average. Most variety/region combinations show much less clusters than last year. However, last year was an anomaly with regard to bunch counts, as we observed some of the highest bunch counts we had ever seen for most winegrapes; but ironically this did not translate into a large crop in 2016. Since a simple comparison to 2016 would have shown most bunch counts as significantly down, we have also included a column showing how the 2017 counts compare to the ten-year average. For a year like 2017, this may be a better measurement to use, as it may more accurately reflect crop potential.

The following are average bunch counts per vine taken from various variety/region combinations in 2017 as compared to last year and the ten-year average.

2017 Allied Grape Growers Bunch Count/% Change 2017 % Change % Change
Variety and Location Bunch From From
Whites Count Last Year 10-Year Avg
Chardonnay (Dist 11/17 - Lodi/Clarksburg) 62.6 -25.8% -16.5%
Chardonnay (Dist 12 - Merced-Manteca) 52.0 -13.7% -31.1%
Chardonnay (Dist 13 - Madera/Fresno) 81.9 -31.4% 1.7%
French Colombard - (Dist 12-14) 104.5 -16.1% -1.1%
Muscat of Alexander - (Dist 13 - Madera/Fresno) 55.9 -23.2% -15.1%
Pinot Grigio - San Joaquin Valley (incl. Lodi) 79.9 -16.9% -7.8%
Thompson Seedless - (District 13 - Madera/Fresno) 27.5 -16.0% -17.4%
Barbera 78.0 -20.1% 9.9%
Cabernet Sauvignon (Dist 11 - Lodi) 102.0 1.6% 5.4%
Cabernet Sauvignon (Dist 12 - Merced-Manteca) 116.6 8.8% 9.0%
Cabernet Sauvignon (Dist 13 - Madera/Fresno) 83.0 -15.5% -4.4%
Carignane (Dist 13 - Madera/Fresno) 85.0 -16.9% 0.1%
Grenache (Dist 13 - Madera/Fresno) 75.5 -6.4% -4.2%
Merlot (Dist 11 - Lodi) 81.6 27.0% 10.8%
Merlot (Dist 12 - Merced-Manteca) 83.4 12.7% -3.2%
Merlot (Dist 13 - Madera/Fresno) 87.7 -28.5% 10.5%
Petite Sirah (Dist - Lodi) 57.8 -14.7% -10.0%
Rubired (Dist 13 - Madera/Fresno) 126.4 -3.8% -14.9%
Ruby Cabernet (Dist 13 - Madera/Fresno) 102.6 -14.6% -4.8%
Syrah (Dist 13 - Madera/Fresno) 88.9 8.4% 6.1%
Zinfandel (Dist 11 - Lodi On wire) 50.2 -10.8% -14.3%
Zinfandel (Dist 11 - Lodi Head trained) 50.6 3.3% 1.6%
Zinfandel (Dist 12 - Merced-Manteca) 66.0 -32.0% -6.5%
Zinfandel (Dist 13 - Madera/Fresno) 62.3 -28.0% -18.5%

Overall, we believe the crop looks like what we would classify as “about average.” Nothing we see convinces us of a huge shortage or surplus on any variety. But clearly, the one variety/region combination that stands out as potentially lighter than average is North Valley Chardonnay. Not only do visual observations by most in the industry support assumptions of a lighter than normal crop, the bunch counts when compared to last year as well as the ten-year average also point to something less than average. Other white varieties that are notably light on counts when compared to both last year and the ten-year average are Muscat of Alexander as well as Thompson Seedless.

As far as other white grapes are concerned, French Colombard looks to be “near average”, but word from the field is that the crop should size up well. Pinot Grigio looks a bit on the lighter side, but Central Valley Chardonnay, despite its brothers and cousins to the north, seems to be right at the ten-year average on counts.

Moving on to red varieties (and again paying more attention to how this year compares to the ten-year average rather than to last year), we see that most varieties are only off by single digit percentages one way or the other. Cabernet Sauvignon in the North Valley actually looks to have a solid crop based on counts, as the counts were slightly above last year and above the ten-year average. Lodi Merlot also exhibits the same pattern along with Central Valley Syrah. Most other red winegrape variety/region combinations exhibit counts that are much lower than last year and just slightly lower or higher than the ten-year average. Petite Sirah, Rubired and most Zinfandel categories show crops that are potentially lighter than average, based on the numbers.

Overall, most in the industry agree that we don’t need more than an average crop of any interior grapes. The market is rebounding nicely after three years of spot market softness, but the industry does not have a shortage of California appellation wine enough to welcome a large crop yet. A year of interior yields that are average or slightly below won’t hurt us any in the marketplace, as it will only promote further inventory balancing and market stabilization.

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