Sales Dip Seen in Stats

By Karl Klooster

Reflecting the highly competitive, price-driven marketplace, the total sale of Oregon wine has decreased in 2009, according to the annual Oregon Vineyard and Winery Report from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Most significant in the 12 pages of data are key indicators of the wine industry’s current condition: wine sales were reported at 1,660,000 cases in 2009, down from 1,748,000 in 2008.

The impact of the 5.3 percent decrease takes on even greater meaning when translated to gross revenue. The value of 2009 sales was $201.9 million, down 15.9 percent from 2008’s $233.9 million.

Other telling statistics include one that’s up and another that’s down.

For the first time, the Oregon winegrape harvest topped 40,000 tons. And for the first time since the 2002 vintage, the average price paid per ton dropped.

On the positive side, 2009 appears to be an excellent year. But the earliest releases of any wines from the vintage remain months off, and the prestigious Pinot Noirs won’t be out until the middle of 2011.

The first of the much-heralded 2008 Pinot Noirs are just now beginning to appear on retail shelves, while sizable inventories from 2007 either remain unsold or have been blended into less expensive bottlings.

The $140 drop in the average cost per ton for all winegrapes, to $1,910, isn’t large. However, it is another sign of downward pricing pressure that continues to affect winegrape growers, and other farmers.

The largest decline among varietals was in the Pinot Noir grapes grown in the North Willamette Valley. Prices dropped from $2,820 per ton in 2008 to $2,340 in 2009. The decline in price may be partly due to an increase in harvested acres of Pinot Noir, which edged up from 8,713 in 2008, to 9,026 in 2009. 

Statewide, the number of Pinot Noir acres planted increased from 11,210 in 2008 to 11,523 in 2009, accounting for nearly 60 percent the state’s 19,400 winegrape acreage.

Of the 15 varieties followed in the report, all but three showed a slight reduction in planted acreage. Acreage inreased modestly for Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, and was up by just four acres of Tempranillo.

The number of vineyards dropped from 856 to 835. The number of processing wineries ticked up from 274 to 275. The number of bonded wineries dropped from 395 to 387, but name changes and consolidations could easily account for such a small difference.

Yamhill County once again led in each category, with 246 vineyards, 108 processing wineries and 150 bonded wineries.

Oregon may have harvested more grape tonnage than ever in 2009, but the number of tons actually processed by Oregon wineries, which translates into cases of wine produced from the vintage, are two different matters.

Wineries reported a total crush of 37,000 tons, some 7.5 percent less than the amount harvested. Grapes shipped out of state, and grapes culled as unsuitable, account for the rest.

Using the formula of 150 gallons per ton, and dividing by 2.38 to estimate the number of 12-bottle cases that will fill, we get a total production estimate for 2009 of 2.32 million cases. That represents a 13.5 percent increase over 2008, which was a low yield year. 

Ranked by total production, Pinot Noir grapes remain in the lead at 20,317 tons. The rest of the top 10 breaks down this way: 2) Pinot Gris, 7,385 tons; 3) Chardonnay, 2,103 tons; 4) White Riesling, 1,362 tons; 5) Syrah, 909 tons; 6) Merlot, 686 tons; 7) Cabernet Sauvignon, 670 tons; 8) Gewürztraminer, 432 tons; 9) Viognier, 299 tons; 10, Müller-Thurgau, 151 tons. The remaining 2,686 tons were split many ways.

By county, production was as follows: 1) Yamhill, 15,700 tons; 2) Polk, 4,964 tons; 3) Lane, 4,002 tons; 4) Washington, 3,327 tons; 5) Marion, 2,592 tons; 6) Douglas, 973 tons. As a region, Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley produced 2,719 tons.

Estate-grown wines are important to any industry making its most prominent mark with individual vineyards, and the report documents a continued trend in that direction. 

Estate vineyards accounted for 16,503, or 41 percent, of Oregon’s 40,200 tons of harvested grapes.

Though many factors influence the financial health of the Oregon wine industry, and circumstances vary widely among individual growers and producers, troubled economic times stir negative forces beyond control. And there is virtual unanimity that the worst is not yet over, that further fallout lies ahead.

But, over the long term, an industry whose foundation is firmly rooted in quality will remain very much alive and ultimately thrive.


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