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Trouble in California
The 2010 and 2011 Vintages - Why Prices Are Going Up


California has had two tough years in a row; 2010 and 2011 produced two very short vintages. Difficult growing conditions both years included too much rain and very cool summers that resulted in leaner, less ripe fruit and dramatically lower yields throughout the state. Over all, the harvest in the state was down 12% in 2010 from 2009 and then another 9% in 2011 from 2010. And, this varied widely by growing region with many producers losing up to 40% of their crops. There was still a lot of great wine made in both vintages, but with lower sugar levels and higher acidity from less ripe grapes, expect leaner, more elegant wines. If you like your wines big, ripe and rich, you may be disappointed.

Our first exposure was the 2010 Talbot Logan Chardonnay, always a big, viscous, ripe Chardonnay, at least until the 2010. This vintage is still a very well made wine, earning 90 points from Wine Enthusiast, but its flavor profile has more in common with Chablis than what you expect from California. These are vintages where I will be very careful with the people like Cameron Hughes, Don Sebastiani and the other California negotiants who buy surplus fruit, because there is going to be a lot less of it around and the quality will be much lower. In 2010 and 2011, if wineries were selling off grapes, it wasn't because they had more than they needed, it was because the fruit didn't meet their standards.

Then there is the supply problem. Last year we sold over 22 cases of Rombauer Chardonnay, two weeks ago we received our Rombauer allocation from the 2011 vintage, it was 3 cases. I doubt if we will have Rombauer again until sometime in late 2013. We can expect many California wineries to run out of wine midway through the cycle. For us it will be worse because distributors will do their best to hold back wine from retailers and sell it to the restaurants so they don't lose wine list placements.

And, more bad news... prices are headed up. It's pure supply and demand, since 2008 there has been a surplus of California wine and we have seen plenty of deals, but that surplus is drying up quick. Expect prices to be on the rise for at least the next two years. My advise, if you really like some of the 2007, 2008 or 2009 wines, stock up now they may be more expensive and in short supply next year.