A Grape Grower’s Million Dollar Question
As a grape broker in the North Coast, I often hear the same question from our grape growing clients… “Can you sell my grapes this year?” While it seems like a simple question to answer, it is actually not. Every grower’s situation is different and each of those situations requires specific considerations in relation to the current grape market, which this year, has been challenging at best. I explain to the grower that in order for me to answer their question, I need to ask a few of my own:
1.) What is the current condition of your vineyard? Are your grapes free of mildew and rot? What percentage of the grapes, if any, have sunburn damage?
With these questions, I am attempting to determine if we will be able to sell the grapes to wineries if interest arises. The answers to these questions are essential in ascertaining the quality of the grapes and our ability to market them. While this growing season has been difficult for every grower to combat what Mother Nature has thrown at them, the last thing a potential buyer wants to see is a vineyard full of mildew. As in any other year, if wineries are considering buying grapes, they are looking for the best quality they can find.
2.) What are your pricing expectations?
It is imperative for us to help a grower understand the market conditions and then determine the options the grower has in regards to price and whether or not they can be flexible in their expectations. Not only does this information help us to market their grapes, but it also allows us to think of creative solutions where possible. The information enables quick action if we have interest in the particular variety the grower has available. For example, if the grower has 50 tons of Mendocino Pinot Noir and is expecting $800 per ton but can be somewhat flexible, and we have a winery that is potentially looking for Pinot Noir in the same area but is targeting $650 per ton, there is a potential solution for both parties. Although there is a price expectation gap between buyer and seller, there might be some middle ground to get a deal done. This potential deal would not be possible without knowing the price expectations of both parties.
3.) What are your options?
Obviously, the first, second and third option is to sell the grapes. However, with current market conditions, it is necessary to have backup options. The fourth option is to custom crush your grapes. The fifth option is to again custom crush your grapes, but in a joint venture with a winery. The sixth and final option is to drop them on the ground, which is a decision that we at Turrentine Brokerage don’t like to suggest or hear of occurring. It is important for us to know if you plan to, or already have, setup a custom crush contract. It is also important for us to know if you plan on custom crushing as a last resort or if you plan on doing so if you do not receive an offer above $x per ton.
4.) Where are your grapes in regards to ripening and when do you anticipate harvesting?
If the grapes are two days from harvesting, there might not be much we can do for the grower; however, it would also depend on how the above questions were answered. If the grower has not received any offers all year and custom crush or a joint venture is not an option, we might be able to find a buyer who is willing to make an offer that covers picking, delivery and hopefully some of the farming cost. We, at Turrentine Brokerage, understand that this has been a challenging year for growing and harvesting grapes; however, the information gathered from the above questions allows us to better understand the specific grower’s situation, to provide individual market information and to explore their preferences and expectations in finding a home for their grapes.
On a side note; the earlier in the year a grower lists their grapes with Turrentine Brokerage, the better. The more time we have to market the grapes, the greater are the odds of finding potential buyers.
“So… can you sell my grapes this year?”
At Turrentine Brokerage, we always strive for that answer to be ‘yes’.
North Coast Grape Broker