By Dawn Dolan
“We have good sellers and good buyers in the North Bay,” Brian Clements states firmly. “The North Bay region provides premium grapes, and the luxury category of $10 per bottle and higher is selling very well, across all varietal categories.”
But, this is farming after all, and as Clements says, “We can’t control what the weather does in any given growing season. We had three big [crop] years in a row, and then the size of the last crop was inadequate to what the market needed for this premium-level category.”
A Vice President and Partner at Turrentine Brokerage, Clements manages Turrentine’s grape brokerage team, and is the go-to for industry information on crop yields, grape market conditions, and contracts. He is quoted frequently in business journals and local press, and will be leading the five-person panel discussion into the perplexing arena of grape contracts at the WIN Expo 2016, Harvest Recap and Look Ahead for 2017: Anticipated Changes in Vineyard Contracts, Bulk & Grape Market.
He would like the panel to discuss how the labor situation may impede progress in this area. “Labor was a big issue in 2016, and will continue, with rising costs and availability of labor a major issue. This may mean considering more mechanization at all stages: pruning, leaf pulling, harvesting.”
Grape growers with all sizes of vineyards will be represented, Clements assures. “We have Chris Boland, of Boland Vineyard Management on the panel. He’s a younger, up and coming guy who is well-like by the wineries. He is farming several hundred acres in total, with most of what he farms and sells being small vineyards. Steve Sangiacomo is a larger farmer who provides grapes to many, many wineries.
“The winemaker from St. Francis, Chris Louton, will be talking about what the wine consumer is looking for these days. The consumer taste swings over time, and so does what wine writers are liking in any given moment.”
As far as grape contracts go, Clements notes that “Grape prices have peaked in the North Bay. The market has become a seller’s market, and it is likely to stay that way going into 2017. We continue to see multi-year contracts being signed. Planting contracts are becoming fashionable again, to keep up with the increase in luxury wine sales.”
This entails the grower and the winery entering into a long term contract to purchase grapes from a vineyard that the grower will develop. Particularly if the grower will be borrowing money to develop the vineyard, it is usually necessary for the grower and the winery to have a pre-plant contract.
Clements says that he is already hearing next year’s market talked about, and is seeing contracting being done now for the 2017 harvest. John Mackie, the lawyer on the panel, will be bringing legal clarity to questions about what can be done with the development and execution of these grape contracts.
Despite the time constraints, Clements promises that he will lead the discussion into, “…all aspects of contracting; labor, growing season, market, all aspects of the 2016 harvest, what it takes to get grapes to a winery, heat, rain, and mildew at harvest.” He will include some “problematic topics and not shy away from some of the difficult themes that growers are concerned about,” he expresses. “I hope that people can take away something of interest to talk about.”