Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | February 14, 2011

Broken Hearts Bleeding Bulk Wine

No. Really. How Much Do You Love Me?

Winegrape Farmer’s hearts were broken last Thursday when the USDA released its 2010 Preliminary Grape Crush Report.

The third largest crush in history after the 2009 crush and most heartbreaking crush in 2005, the California wine industry produced 3.58 million tons in 2010, not nearly the reduced tonnage expected prior to the report being released – speculation circulated beforehand that crush would be down between 5-15%.

Meanwhile back at the ranch we’re upping production in our Creek Block Chardonnay by 30% leaving several more bud positions on each cane to enable us to supply the demand for such beautiful, hand farmed Carneros fruit.

Why give roses this year to your valentine, when you can give the gift of Chardonnay to your winemaker who’s itching to ditch the contracts with not so good fruit, for better fruit? It’s called dating, not getting married. I’ll offer you a one year contract and we can see if we like one another, if you’re the kind of man – I mean buyer – I look for who knows something good once he’s seen it and prefer to sign on the dotted line for several years, I’ll make it worth your while. I promise.

And at the Thomson Vineyards SF Satellite Office the San Francisco ABC guys just can’t seem to get enough of me and have scheduled an appointment tomorrow in my “office” to check out just where and what they are licensing between Lake & California Streets in The Avenues. Last Tuesday they were lurking around the front of my apartment snapping pictures with a digital camera, trying to get a glimpse of something through my blinds. Why is it the ones you’re not interested in, always want you? And the ones you are interested in just keep saying, “No.”

What the fellas’ down at 71 Stevenson Street don’t seem to be able to understand is that a Type 29 Winegrape Growers License allows me to be the one wearing the pants in a relationship when I hop into bed with a winery. Over the past several weeks I’ve been practically having a not so free online communication event more reminiscent to the 49 questions eHarmony uses to expertly match you based on deep compatibility rather than a government institution. Here’s a snapshot of the first few weeks of our, “he’s way more into you than you’re into him” relationship:

“So where will you be storing the wine?” At the winery who crushes it and is a bonded 02 or 17 license holder it I answer.

“But this Type 29 License says it’s a Winegrape Growers Storage License?” Yes, it allows me to be the owner of the wine in tank or barrel at the winery who crushed it at its facility who again is a bonded licensed 02 or 17 facility. You know, kind of like when you leave your toothbrush over at someone’s house clearly marked as yours by a distinguishing color, but with their permission rather than sneaking it in alongside the toothpaste for them to discover, or discover you’ve removed later.

“Well, I’ll need to see your TTB and BATF applications.” No. First of all that’s a bit more personal than I want to get with you during the first two weeks of our torrid relationship and second I don’t need those as I’m not selling any wine for retail, there is no label, I have no trademarks. I’m essentially applying for a piece of paper that may as well be a stock brokers license to buy, sell, and trade wine on the bulk market. This protects me from my possessive winery boyfriends who may crush it, sell it and give me back what they feel I’m worth, not what I know I’m worth.

“So you’ll store this wine at XXX 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA. 94118?” Yeah. In my bathtub after I drain the bubbles out from my Valentine’s Day bubble bath I take later on tonight.

The last week has done a real number on this single millennial girl’s heart. Keep reading as this Carneros romance novel or Love/Hate manifesto unfolds. Outside of what’s going on in the vineyard, I’ve just about had it with my stalker the ABC District Office in San Francisco.

I wake up often with nightmares about this time last year when I was being broken up with on a virtual Post-it by wineries, with commitment issues, only to find them come crawling back once I’d delivered the 2009 Crush Report in hot pink trapper keeper folders decorated with sparkly I Luv You stickers. Hey – a Wine Grower – I mean a girls gotta’ do what a girls gotta’ do.

This year the relationship vibes are better and I’ve got voicemails and emails stacked up from wineries wanting dates or asking if I’d consider stop seeing other people. Black Sheep Finds, Bravium, White Cottage Ranch, Urban Legend Cellars, Lightheart Cellars, and my new BFF Kopriva are just a few. I admit it, I’m still dating around. I have to, I upped my production by 30% in the Chardonnay Man’s Man Block and as of February 14, 2011 have about 20T of clone 76 left.

Worth It. Way Worth It.

The 2010 Preliminary Grape Crush Report indicates that while more and more “non winegrapes” are being pumped into wine production, upping the total tons crushed and hemorrhaging more value wine into the bulk wine market, pricing may have dropped by several percentage points, but it’s possible there may be a deficit in the Chardonnay market within the next one to two years.

And make no mistake about our online profile. The Pinot Noir and Merlot we grow at Thomson Vineyards, you can’t just pick up in a Marina or Cow Hollow bar, no, these girls are refined, intelligent, confident, put together and have already had their hearts broken one too many times. You’ll have to wine and dine them harder than the rest, because I promise you they’re worth it. So’s the girl who wears the Expensive But Worth It necklace, in and out of the vineyard.

I Bet A Mojito There's More Than 60 Cases In His Basement.

If you need to talk to me today, I’m downstairs in my SF basement drinking bottle after bottle of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Merlot so my stalker non-boyfriend the San Francisco ABC Office can’t question why there’s 60 cases of the stuff down there confusing yet again, the premise of the Winegrape Growers Type 29 Storage License. Just imagine how that part of the date could go tomorrow.

“So these 60 cases, you have absolutely no plans to sell them, why are they stored here?” It’s my personal single girl stash! How do you think I lure the few and far between straight men to my San Francisco apartment!?! A girl’s gotta’ differentiate herself. Go down the street and turn right. I’m sure Newsom has a few cases in his basement and doesn’t hold a Type 29 License!


  1. Guys, I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what you’re saying here. Maybe I’m dense this morning, but it sounds like there’s an interesting story and I’m just not getting it. Can you dumb it down for fools like me?

    • Blake

      There are two stories here: 1. The crop report isn’t in favor of growers who set their prices for the preceding year based on the following year’s benchmark. A decrease in price per ton, in an already stressed market overloaded with fruit and bulk wine, is bad. The only reason Thomson Vineyards will weather the price decrease is because we have intentionally positioned ourselves as a small lot supplier with chardonnay that exhibits distinct site characteristics, pinot noir that’s 35 years old, and stolen merlot clone that tastes like cabernet. Small producers can also get three varietals from one grower, enabling me to get more creative on pricing, and when I deliver crop reports printed on hot pink paper to winemakers who turn their nose up at the report saying it’s not accurate (only in years when it’s in favor of the grower though) they luv me even more.

      And 2. Which is what I think you were more looking to for clarification and my apologies, keep in mind, I was downing bottle after bottle yesterday in an attempt to side step questions about my personal cellar.

      Type 29 is a license that only winegrape growers/vineyard owners may apply for. It is a non retail license. It is also the only license that can be licensed to you at a vineyard owner’s office address, not a physical location (vineyard or winery) or single address. This component is in response to vineyard owners typically having more than one vineyard.

      Thomson Vineyards has 3, maybe 4 actual vineyard sites. A stipulation of the license is that it can be utilized by the winegrape grower only in instances related to grapes grown by the grower. I grow grapes in Napa, but I do office work on my laptop most of the time in San Francisco. During harvest I didn’t sleep one night in SF and continued to pay the rent for 4 months. Now I spend 3 days a week in SF, 4 in Carneros.

      Growers must apply for the license in the county at the district office related to their office location. When I went first to Santa Rosa, who handles all Napa/Sonoma/North Coast Type 29 licensing, since most growers live there, they said what’s your office address and I said SF. You know what happened then, they said “You must apply through the SF Office” The SF Office, like 75% of consumers, have no idea what the actual wine supply chain looks like. And can’t wrap their minds around the fact that even though the verbiage states “Type 29 Winegrape Grower’s Storage License” in their 3 ring notebook with yellowed pages from 1972 – I’M NOT STORING ANY WINE IN MY OFFICE. Furthermore, this is not 1972, it’s 2011 and my office is where ever my DROID or Mac Laptop is.

      The Type 29 literally means that you as the winegrape grower own the wine in the winery’s tank or barrel at whatever winery you’ve done a deal with to crush it in a partnership, 50/50, or paid custom crush situations. 99% of these situations in place enable the winery to crush it, store it, and sell it on behalf of the grower.

      Thomson Vineyards is among the 1% of growers who wants to negotiate the best rates it can for itself on bulk wine. Typically, I’m no conspiracy theorizer, but in this market (see #1 above) I want to wear the pants and negotiate my own price per gallon for my fruit and my juice, should I choose to do so, not some girl in the office, winemaker who just wants it out of his tanks, or broker who has 25 other deals going on at the moment.

      We rarely have bulk wine to sell on the bulk market, 99% of our fruit goes into small lot producing wine programs from UpValley Napa down to Santa Barbara and over to San Francisco. But, I have 1 barrel of Cabernet, and 1,000 gallons of Chardonnay currently in wineries possession to do with it what they want. The Cabernet is with a good guy, who knows I would hunt him down and make him beg for mercy if he didn’t give it back. The Chardonnay is with who I consider a bad guy, he hasn’t paid for it, he hasn’t given any back to me, and I suspect thinks he got some pretty damn good Chardonnay for free.

      The Type 29 license allows the winegrape grower flexibility. Without it you’re powerless when you need it. When you have it, you have insurance against a weak and struggling market. Isn’t it Murphy’s Law? Day late, dollar short. When I have the money, I don’t have the time, When I have the time, I don’t have the money?

      The ABC office doesn’t make it easy. They don’t know the basis of their own licenses. And they will be at my SF “Office” apartment at 11 a.m., where I’m responding to this comment now, in my hot pink jammies, cup of Taylor Maid coffee, laptop, and Obama’s presidential news conference. They won’t find anywhere for me to “Store” this wine they think is going to suddenly appear in 500 gal. tanks or on pallet after pallet being stacked in my teeny tiny back yard by pallet jack. This is what your tax dollars are paying for.

  2. Sounds like ABC is looking for alcohol tax money to me, Blake…

    • Or to see me in my post V Day hot pink jammies! Thanks for the note Josh. Does anyone know of any other grower who has applied for this license and can add their two cents? I know the Hyde’s recently may have obtained their 29. But that was in Napa, where they dole out licenses more often. This is particularly and interesting situation because it’s SF (which shouldn’t be cut very much slack as it’s just 45 miles away – not North Dakota) The entire purpose of this license is to license an operation – NOT a physical place, vineyard, winery, bonded storage area, etc. and yet, they’ll be here shortly!

  3. I was right on all counts — there IS an interesting story, and I was too dense to understand it.

    I look forward to hearing what the ABC does. As for the hot pink jammies, you need to sign up for a vyou account like me so we can all enjoy them.

    Good luck.

    • Common’ over – I almost called up our SF winery to see if he’d come by for a “client meeting” this morning but a journalist is even better! Thanks for the comments.

  4. Jennifer your mistake was telling the Napa office you worked in SF – especially as you spend more than half of your time out of the City. Chances are nobody in the SF office of the ABC has ever heard of much less issued a Type 29 – I would be surprised if they had done a 17/20. They can probably knock out an on-sale or off-sale retail in a couple days, though. I understand your frustration but just take a deep breath and try to keep in mind that their learning curve is steeper than yours, their motivation is less, and their inertia is greater. Ask the inspectors if there is anything you can do to help them. Unless you are a convicted felon (and the hot pink jammies make me wonder) they have no grounds to deny your application. Sooner or later they will get all the proper paperwork together and check off all the appropriate boxes. Patience. Om.

    • Hi John – you’re ohh so right! We’ve got secrets at Thomson Vineyards which I typically expose here on the blog and tell The Farmer about later. Among them is that I really don’t like working in the office covered with 35 years worth of Carneros dust, nor does my super high tech DROID or Mac. Thus, I’ve scanned a whole bunch of important TV papers and uploaded them to Google Docs, carry hard copies of our block map around in my back pack, and will never stop looking up towards the sky and shouting “To The Cloud” I 100% agree, I think (TBD once they get here) they aren’t out to get me, they just have no idea what they are licensing – I mean 02 and 17 and all the rest don’t require them to actually count above the number 25!

      • I imagine you can do a bit of a Katy Perry impression – you know, sweetness and big round eyes – and while looking all innocent and adorable you could say something like “but, when I was talking with a supervising agent in the Sacramento office he told me this would be simple.” 😉

        You might write yourself out a little script with short answers explaining what you think a Type 29 is, how it will apply to your business and help you protect your brand (“and you want to help little old me protect my brand, don’t you?”). I used to script out my responses before interacting with permit offices in El Dorado and San Mateo counties – places where they did not have much experience permitting wineries – and it helped. If all else fails ask your physician for a few beta blockers.

        First and foremost, keep in mind that the ABC agents don’t give a crap how you are managing your business with new tech. Your job is to give them the answers they need to fill out their paperwork, not to educate them on how to license a mobile office – their higher-ups have not issued policy and procedure docs for 21st-century offices yet, and the field agents have no authority to do so themselves.

  5. Amusing. You make whining into an art form, of sorts. If Napa was the Seinfeld show, you’d be a great Elaine. How much for a ton of your Pinot? Got samples? What, you have 60 cases of samples to show perspective customers the quality of your fruit? Seems reasonable. Bunt

  6. Just as a point of clarification the ‘Grape Crush Report’ is published by the State of California – Department of Food and Agriculture, not the USDA ‘United States Department of Argiculture’. However, as a small fine wine producers I feel you pain!

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