Another short year?

by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

jeff-smWe’ve had two short years in 2010 and 2011, and I’m wondering if 2012 is going to make it a trifecta. The most important factor in how large the crop will be is the weather early in the season, and it’s been kind of cold. Bud break has been late (my cab still is biding its time). My friend Arthur Przebinda (albeit in Los Angeles) reports his small vineyard is behind last year as well.

The second most important factor is how last year’s spring was, and we all know it was late and cool. (This year’s crop is “laid down” the spring before, so warm weather helps, and cool weather hinders, the development of fertile buds). And we all know how last year was. So both factors are trending towards a short harvest this year as well.

Now of course, all of this prognosticating is subject to a good deal of error, so it’s entirely possible that the ultimate outcome could be entirely different. But let’s assume that this is another short, and perhaps challenging, year. What does that end up meaning?

Of course, the obvious result is short supply, which should translate into increased prices (that old supply and demand thing). How much it will translate into higher prices, however, is debatable. We have a world wine market, and a short harvest here can certainly be balanced out by supplies in the rest of the world.

Another factor is the overall economy. No matter how short the supply, it’s hard to see prices going through the roof if the economy stays stagnant. Things seem to be improving, but not at a dramatic pace. I don’t think that demand for higher end wines is going to be so robust as to lift the overall market by any considerable amount. Of course, that’s tea leaf reading, so I could end up being entirely off base.

The other impact of our spring could be on quality. Last year’s cool spring turned into a cool summer that turned into a cool fall. Taking all that coolness together, we had a really late harvest, one that was beset by the rains that tend to come when you least want them. Could this year’s subpar spring be a harbinger of yet another challenging harvest? And if the quality is compromised, will consumers pay more in light of a short supply if the quality just isn’t there?

I for one am certainly hoping that things heat up some so that we avoid the quality problems, but a short harvest isn’t the worst thing in the world for a grape grower. True, there’s less to sell, but that’s more than made up for by the higher prices that the grapes fetch.

So we’ll just have to wait and see what Mother Nature has in store for us the rest of the season. Like baseball, at this time of the year, it’s hard to pick the winners.

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