Last week at the Napa Valley Grape Growers Viticulture Fair vendors and suppliers offered up vineyard tractors with price tags of well over $60,000, ion charged spray technology at $28,000 a unit, and two bin harvest trailers for more than the district 4 average price per ton of Chardonnay.
This Saturday the winery contracted for Thomson Vineyards 2010 Merlot crop rejected the proposed harvest fully aware of the .5 to 1.0 inch of rain forecast, in-winery lab analysis reflecting fruit chemistry in range of the optimal standards designated by the winery in the 2010 Grape Purchase Agreement and instead of sharing the level of risk between grower and winery – cited under ripe fruit, related to seed maturity and earthy flavors in sample juice, as the reason for not harvesting although the winery’s lab confirmed 23 brix, 3.5 pH, .6 TA.
This decision cost Thomson Vineyards an excess of $10,000 in crop loss. It cost the winery no immediate realized monetary loss; just the loss of doing business with a grower who does an honest and straight forward business, which some may quantify in this era as priceless.
Two sleepless nights later and in a Carrie Bradshaw moment I woke up this morning asking:
How do the mutually dependent vendors, suppliers, growers and wineries in this industry get on the same page?
I think you would be hard pressed to find any grower or small to mid-sized winery who could justify or afford the $60k tractor, most of us are shopping around on Wine Business Classifieds sourcing liquidations of forklifts and barrels. The network of vineyard management companies, winery owners, and other growers that I communicate with on a weekly basis finds me often asking, “Where did you get that piece of equipment from again…didn’t you say they had 50 lb bags of pre-mixed Vineyard Special cover crop seed they were also getting rid of?”
Yet, manufacturers continue to crank out equipment that far exceeds the realistic limitations of the current market and vendors and suppliers set their service fees at higher and higher tiers. I guess on a $60k machine you’ve only gotta’ sell one as the dealer.
Did you know that if you are harvesting hillside fruit or even valley floor fruit – small bunches, or a selective pick, it will set you back $250/ton? Chardonnay and Cabernet deals were being done last week at that price per ton, not to mention Sauvignon Blanc deals at $150/ton in some regions to the North beginning in August.
I have a $5K+ harvest labor bill sitting on my desk for only a fraction of our picks done this year and $10k worth of ripe Merlot sitting in the field with 23.5 brix, 3.5 pH and .6 TA skins now deteriorating after being pounded by .62 inches of rain on Saturday night.
I don’t have the stomach to comment any further on the crop and monetary loss related to this weekend’s storm and the contracted winery’s decision to reject the option to harvest and shift the shared risk between both parties – 100% back to the grower – except to say what I always say, “If you are a winery, find a grower who does an honest, straight forward business, align your own business principles and practices with theirs and stick with them – even when it’s raining.” You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the world as honest, sturdy and stable – in a simple and refreshing way, as a Farmer.
So…if you’ve got an answer to my Carrie Bradshaw question, I’d like to hear it. For now, I’m hanging up my Farmer boots, soaking my moonlight ivory North Face Apex Bionic jacket in OxiClean to rid it of red grape juice stains and trading all that in for Manolo Blahniks and my passport.
Afterall it’s what Carrie would do – pack up her Louis Vuitton (in my case Dakine), leave a scathing message for Mr. Big (in my case the Thomson Vineyards Blog), grab her Mac Laptop and fly to Paris with The Russian or Morocco and find Aiden (both in line with what I’m about to do).