December 2012 Issue of Wines & Vines
Navigating the New Normal
Symposium to address promise of 2012 vintage and challenges of a global economy
The excellent 2012 harvest and the uncertainties of doing business in the new, global economy will provide plenty of substance for this year’s Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, to be held Jan. 29-31 at the Sacramento Convention Center. The American Society for Enology and Viticulture and the California Association of Winegrape Growers present the symposium.
The opening general session Jan. 29 will explore how the global wine market affects U.S. production. Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, once again chaired the program development committee for Unified. “We knew we were in a time of both rapid change and, in the case of the world economy, some uncertainty,” he said.
In general, most in the industry seem to have a shared sense of optimism since early 2012, and “that certainly is a pleasant change,” Frey said. But while conditions may have been rosy in California and most other growing regions this past vintage, Frey said those in the wine industry should be mindful of what happens to the economy in Europe and how that affects currency values. “Ultimately, the European economic situation continues to be a concern. How currency values are going to change, the poor crop in Europe, those are the areas that we’re trying to get some insight on.”
Also, as costs have risen, Frey said wineries might need to start raising prices—something that could come as a shock for consumers who have grown used to buying wine at recession prices. “That’s an issue that’s important to the industry,” he said.
Planting and replanting
The current short bulk market also has many growers and wineries thinking about or actually planting new vineyards. Brad Goehring, owner of Goehring Vineyards Inc. in Clements, Calif., is participating in a Jan. 30 panel session about planting and replanting vineyards.
Goehring owns 400 acres of vineyards but works with more than 10,000 acres spread across 11 counties in California. He is still working on some of the issues to be discussed during the session, but he said in general there’s been a “huge uptick” in demand for planting vines.
What is getting planted, however, depends on the region. “It’s been a mix of just about everything.” he said.
Goehring said he hasn’t seen growers in a rush to match consumer demand; instead, he said growers are better advised to find a winery partner to shoulder the cost of developing a vineyard while still keeping an eye on the market. “The most important thing is for a winery to give you a pre-plant contract,” he said.
If growers can stay tuned in to what the market is doing, it may be easier to find a willing winery partner. “The first half of the strategy is reactive,” Goehring said, “and the other half is proactive.”
Another issue of concern for Goehring is labor and the competition for open ground. He said a lack of available labor might lead more growers to replant with a trellis system that works with mechanization, and that move could influence which wineries are willing to work with them.
Competing for open land
Simply finding a place to plant vines may be an even bigger challenge. Goehring said that the last time the industry faced a shortage there was little demand from other crops. Today, winegrapes aren’t the only profitable crop. “What that means is we’re competing to purchase more open land,” he said.
The result, Goehring said, is that California likely won’t see balance in the winegrape market for another five years. “That’s also a good thing, too, because farmers have a history of going out and overplanting certain commodities that are profitable, and that ruins the market.”
The symposium will follow the same track as in previous years, Frey said. The general sessions in the morning will cover major topics of the wine business, and afternoon sessions will look in detail at topics that relate back to the general sessions. “That’s an ongoing theme in trying to ultimately take something home following the conference,” he said.
This year, the symposium will open with a general session focusing on how the global market can affect U.S. wine production.
The short supply of Cal ifornian bulk wine was a major topic at the 2012 Unified session; how the industry reacted to that shortage will be a subject for the Jan. 29 session. Mike Drobnick, senior vice president for bulk wine sales at O’Neill Vintners & Distillers, will moderate the panel that includes Kym Anderson, a professor of economics with the University of Adelaide; Stephen Rannekleiv, the executive director of Rabobank’s food and agribusiness research department; Mike Veseth, author of The Wine Economist blog and professor at the University of Puget Sound in Washington; and Santiago Achurra, president of Viña Requingua in Chile.
State of the industry
On Jan. 30, Veseth will moderate the “State of the Industry” session, which explores “the market dynamics of the past year” as well as the “trends that will define the year ahead.” North America’s largest wine industry trade show runs concurrently with educational sessions Jan. 30-31.
Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers; Jon Fredrikson of Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates; Charles Gill with Wine Metrics and Glenn Proctor of the Ciatti Co. will offer their thoughts about the current state of the U.S. wine business.
The general session Jan. 31 will examine consumer trends driving the industry. Some of the topics to be examined include the continuing popularity of Moscato and red blends, tracking consumer decisions and sales trends for both on- and off-premise sales. Rebecca Bleibaum, vice president of sales and research for consumer analysis company Tragon, will speak on the panel with Christian Miller of Wine Opinions.
The Spanish-language winemaking and grapegrowing sessions have been combined into one general session on the morning of Jan. 31. This year a panel of experts will discuss general industry trends as well as consumer preferences before leading a discussion about growing and producing three white varietal wines: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Albariño. The session will end with a tasting. Amelia Ceja of Ceja Vineyards will moderate the discussion between Eva Bertran of Gloria Ferrer, Markus Bokisch of Bokisch Vineyards and Israel Zenteno, winemaker at Monte Xanic winery in Mexico.
For a complete daily schedule of the symposium, visit unifiedsymposium.org.
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