Prices and Politics in California’s 2012 Harvest

Workdays start before dawn this week across Northern California, as this year’s harvest gets underway with a massive sigh of relief shared by most vintners on America’s west coast. After two years in which the adjectives used by many to describe the harvest ranged from ‘nail-biting’ to ‘disastrous’, California vintners are celebrating what has been a near-perfect growing season and a flawless start to harvest with the heat spikes and deluges of recent years noticeably absent.

But in the aftermath of two small, tricky vintages, a heavy, high-quality crop isn’t all good news, at least not for some. Some winemakers are complaining that in 2012 growers are unconscionably raising prices to make up for a couple of years of shortfall.

Unlike in Europe, where wine producers almost always own at least some vines, America has seen an explosion of estate-less wine labels in the past two decades. Fuelled by the movie Sideways, and what seemed to be continuous escalation of high scores from prominent critical outlets, literally hundreds of boutique Pinot Noir producers appeared on the market, not to mention labels dedicated to everything from Albariño to Zinfandel.

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Image courtesy of Napa Valley Vintners