Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | November 8, 2010

Even When It’s Raining

Sturdy: A Tractor Built Like No Other

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.

Stable: Heels For Millennial Farmers

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).

Don’t try to deny it all you Grumpy Old Men and Wanna’ Be RockStar Winemakers. You get the Sex and the City references. I know what DVD set you’re watching now that harvest is over.


  1. So, I don’t feel particularly “noble” by taking in the was-going-to-be beautiful Sonoma Mountain Cab. Over the course of the two + rainstorms five gorgeous, taunt tons at 24.4 became 3.2 tons of decent survivors—at best. I had harvested everything else for the winery–both estate and contracted –before the five inch first-round onslaught. By the time the sad cab came in everything was fermented and pressed out and the ‘joy’ of putting on the ol’ Keen’s for yet another scrum session in the cellar was wearing a little thin.

    We had a quiet argument in our home before that final pick. “You asked him to pick before the rain and he couldn’t do it–now that the fruit is close to mush it’s not your responsibility” “He’s been good to me–it’s not (all) his fault that St Jean and other powerhouses demanded huge all or nothing picks during the pre-rain panic and took my pathetically small request out of the running” “He has to understand the impact of 3 tons of marginal fruit on an operation your size” “He had no more pickers–half his crew was on another mountain and besides that–another winery refused 20 tons of Chardonnay on him day before yesterday” “You have a contract with him?” “Yes, but it’s at super bargain, ‘got to try to sell it somehow prices’—I still feel obligated”
    My husband left for a marketing trip in Florida and I took in the fruit.

    Have fun in Paris–virtual or not: you deserve it! I still have that Cab to press out and lots of wine to barrel, etc. etc. but I’m soon to trade in the Keen’s for the thrice resoled Sigerson-Morrison’s (wish I could do the heel thing). My cellarmaster and I toured the ‘Field of Dreams’ at the Viticultural Fair as well. Oh well.

    • So you’d choose Paris and The Russian over Aiden? Thanks for the comment Julie.

      It certainly is a delicate dance we all do whether you’re wearing heels or Keens; both growers and wineries loose in vintages like 2010.

      In this case, the winery’s position is that seed maturity and earthy flavors in the whole cluster sample is what led to the conclusion that the fruit was under ripe.

      Unfortunately it’s left us all in an agree to disagree situation.

      If you can’t make the best wine, do you make none at all?

      I truly don’t know the answer.

      What I do know is that there will be another vintage next year. Hopefully it will be a better one than this one for both growers and wineries.

      I took some heat this morning from the winery related to this post, so I’m laying off the blogging for awhile and will instead soak up some heat SCUBA diving and laying on the sandy beaches of Cozumel. I plan to drink all the Tequila I can get my hands on. I’m certainly layin’ off the wine for awhile!

  2. Jen,
    You know you have my sympathies. Great post and it’s a messed up situation to be sure. I hope your vacation washes away the stains (if the oxy clean doesn’t).

    Sending tons of 2011 sunshine wishes your way.

    • Brian – it’s only messed up because of the weather. You’ve seen Chris Farley as El Nino in Saturday Night Live, right? He’s a big guy and can do some damage. That .62 in of rain did some damage and left the fruit in a heartbreaking state…No Farley necessary. Thanks for the comment.

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