Wine sym­po­sium brings ex­perts to­gether

Lodi News-Sentinel - - Front Page - By John Bays

For the sec­ond year in a row, Wine and Roses hosted the Lodi Wine Sym­po­sium, giv­ing grow­ers, wine­mak­ers and other pro­fes­sion­als a chance to meet one an­other, share their ex­pe­ri­ences in the busi­ness and de­velop plans to en­sure the con­tin­u­ing pros­per­ity of one of Lodi’s most prof­itable in­dus­tries.

Joe Petersen, a bro­ker with the real es­tate firm Petersen and Com­pany, which spe­cial­izes in agri­cul­ture, summed it up his State of the Land pre­sen­ta­tion: “Lodi is in a good place. It’s got good wa­ter, good cli­mate and great soil. It’s al­most un­der­val­ued.”

But de­spite the ideal grow­ing con­di­tions, Lodi’s winer­ies are not with­out con­cerns for the fu­ture.

“La­bor has cre­ated pres­sures that we’ve never seen be­fore,” Petersen said, ex­plain­ing that la­bor is one of the big­gest costs for winer­ies in Lodi.

While the min­i­mum wage in­crease from $10 to $15 per hour by 2023 is ex­pected to raise those costs, Petersen said, the full ex­tent of that im­pact is un­known.

The price of grapes has re­mained largely stag­nant since 2002, he said, even drop­ping for some va­ri­eties. At the same time, the costs of fuel, elec­tric­ity and la­bor have in­creased.

John Pri­mas­ing, vice pres­i­dent and chief credit of­fi­cer at the Bank of Stock­ton, also spoke dur­ing the State of the Land pre­sen­ta­tion, sum­ma­riz­ing the ver­nal pool is­sue.

A ver­nal pool is an in­den­ta­tion in the ground that gathers wa­ter, he said. These pools fre­quently be­come breed­ing grounds for fairy shrimp, a fresh­wa­ter crus­tacean found al­most ex­clu­sively in ver­nal pools through­out Cal­i­for­nia and Ore­gon that is listed as a threat­ened species.

As a re­sult, no farm­ing is per­mit­ted on lands near ver­nal pools, Pri­mas­ing said.

Many vine­yards south of Lodi have re­cently been con­verted to al­mond or­chards, he added, de­creas­ing the amount of com­pe­ti­tion in the wine in­dus­try.

“A healthy wine in­dus­try is ex­tremely good for Lodi,” he said. “This is an ag town — agri­cul­ture is who we are.”

Some wine­mak­ers are switch­ing to nuts be­cause they pay more per acre and re­quire less money, said Paul Scotto, di­rec­tor of wine­mak­ing for Scotto Cel­lars.

This could ac­tu­ally help Lodi’s wine in­dus­try, as grow­ers and wine­mak­ers are able to get more value for their wine due to the de­creased sup­ply, he said.

One of the top­ics dis­cussed through­out the sym­po­sium was how to in­crease Lodi’s na­tional recog­ni­tion as a wine area, en­cour­ag­ing cus­tomers to pay more for the area’s wines.

More in­come from wine sales means more money to spend on grapes, Scotto said, which is es­pe­cially im­por­tant for wine­mak­ers such as Scotto Cel­lars who do not grow their own grapes.

Craig Led­bet­ter, part­ner and vice pres­i­dent of sales for Vino Farms, par­tic­u­larly en­joyed the Nielsen data in­for­ma­tion pre­sented ear­lier in the day.

“It cor­re­lates to what we’re do­ing to pro­mote Lodi,” he said. A shared goals among winer­ies and grow­ers is to in­crease the value of the grapes, as well as con­vinc­ing more winer­ies to put Lodi’s name on their la­bels, he said.

Vine­yards in the area used to cost be­tween $15,000 and $16,000 per acre in the 1990s, Led­bet­ter said. They now typ­i­cally cost be­tween $27,000 and $28,000 per acre. As the value of the land in­creases, he said, so does the net value for the grow­ers.

Fol­low­ing a com­pli­men­tary lunch, Erica Moyer and Marc Cu­neo of Tur­ren­tine Bro­ker­age, a wine whole­saler and im­porter, pre­sented on the State of the Grapes.

Moyer, a part­ner with Tur­ren­tine, be­gan by dis­cussing the re­cent mi­gra­tion of winer­ies from the North and Cen­tral Coast re­gions of Cal­i­for­nia to Lodi and the Delta, cit­ing in­creased land costs along the coast as a pri­mary rea­son for the mi­gra­tion.

Lodi winer­ies have been fo­cus­ing more of their ef­forts on pro­duc­ing qual­ity wines as op­posed to large quan­ti­ties, said Cu­neo, a bulk wine bro­ker.

“The buy­ers are will­ing to pay more money for a qual­ity wine,” he said.

The de­mand for low-end wines has de­creased re­cently, ac­cord­ing to Cu­neo. But many Lodi winer­ies are be­gin­ning to sell their bulk wines as a sort of “pres­sure re­lease valve” to make room for the up­com­ing 2017 grape har­vest, Moy­ers added.

The duo broke down the data by dif­fer­ent wine va­ri­etals.

Chardon­nay has de­creased in vol­ume since 2015, nearly reach­ing the same lev­els as the 2012 wine re­ces­sion, which has gen­er­ated a re­newed in­ter­est on the bulk mar­ket, Cu­neo said.

Mean­while, Chardon­nay ac­counts for 20 per­cent of sales, Moyer said, and the rise in Chardon­nay prices last year is ex­pected to con­tinue through 2017.

There is a solid de­mand for Pinot Noir, Cu­neo said, but the de­mand for Pinot Gri­gio on the bulk mar­ket has not in­creased in a while.

Red Zin­fan­del was a hot com­mod­ity on the bulk mar­ket in 2012, he added, but the va­ri­etal has faced chal­lenges since then, with some wines from 2013 and 2014 still held by their re­spec­tive winer­ies.

With Zin­fan­dels slow­ing down, Lodi winer­ies and grow­ers have been mov­ing to Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon, as there is an abun­dance of grapes avail­able for the lat­ter va­ri­etal, he said.

Mer­lot has had a rel­a­tively sta­ble mar­ket, but has been re­cently fight­ing with sweeter, darker wines for space on the bulk mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to Cu­neo.

The mar­ket seems to pre­fer the sweeter, more col­or­ful reds, Moy­ers said.

Other pan­els in­cluded a dis­cus­sion of a lo­cal in­dus­try sur­vey and its re­sults, ex­pand­ing Lodi’s brand power in the wine mar­ketplace, lo­cal takes on grower rights, reg­u­la­tions and other top­ics, and plan­ning for the fu­ture, in­clud­ing suc­ces­sion plan­ning.

The day wrapped up with wine tast­ing.

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