Yesterday, I had an article published in Zester Daily. That article (Grenache Returns to Bask in the California Sun) tracks Grenache's remarkable journey from supplier of innocuous juice for California jug wines to one of the hottest grapes in the state, with over 1000 acres of new planting in the last two decades. The article:
One of my motivations was to give a little plug for the Rhone Rangers Los Angeles Tasting, coming up this Friday and Saturday, November 6-7. The focus of the seminar this year is Grenache (both red and white, both monovarietal and blended). I just heard that the seminar has only 4 seats left, and the grand tasting not much more space. I love hearing that there's enough interest in Rhone varieties in southern California to fill a venue. If you haven't gotten your ticket left and want to try for one of the last few spots, you can do so here.
There were a few pieces of the research that really jumped out at me, that I wanted to address in a little more detail than was possible in the main piece.
The first was the cost of Grenache relative to other more exalted grapes. That the $1,797 price per ton in our district (which includes San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties) was 23% higher than Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% higher than Zinfandel, 32% higher than Syrah, and 70% higher than Merlot seems noteworthy. Of course, this may be a moment-in-time phenomenon; there is less Grenache planted than any of these other grapes, so an increase in demand isn't easily satisfied, and the price can be pushed up quite a bit. One would think that more Grenache will be planted in coming years, and the price will come back down somewhat. It is, after all, a productive and relatively easy-to-grow grape. But the fact that demand has ramped up fast enough to outpace planting is a sign of the speed of the growth in interest.
The second was the amazing quantity of fruit that is being harvested per acre in parts of the Central Valley. I looked at Grape Crush Pricing District 13 (including Fresno, Madera and Tulare Counties) where Grenache averaged 13.74 tons/acre in 2012. I had wanted to compare that to other grapes, to show just how productive Grenache can be, given enough water and nutrients, but I ended up leaving it out of the piece because most other grapes showed similarly massive yields. Merlot from the same district yielded 11.95 tons/acre. Chardonnay yielded 10.61. Cabernet was the least, at 8.23 tons/acre, and Zinfandel showed such a large yield (20.85 tons/acre) that I double- and triple-checked the data, but kept getting the same result. If you'd like to look at the raw information, it's all public domain, and fascinating:
- California Grape Crush Reports, By Year and District: http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/California/Publications/Grape_Crush/Reports/
- California Acreage Reports, By County and Year: http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/California/Publications/Grape_Acreage/
The third thing that stood out to me were the number of organizations that are out there advocating for Grenache, in part because it is still a relative underdog despite its massive worldwide footprint and the recent critical interest. Between the Grenache Association (and the International Grenache Day it organizes), the Rhone Rangers, Hospice du Rhone and Inter-Rhone, there is no lack of advocates out there for this grape. Yes, several of these organizations advocate more broadly for the grapes in the Rhone family, but there is really nothing comparable for Syrah, or Viognier, or Mourvedre.
Finally, I wrote enthusiastically about the potential for Zester Daily back in 2009. Having the excuse to circle back around, six years later, and see the success that it has become was remarkably gratifying. I hope that it continues as a successful model for innovative food and wine journalism in this increasingly online world.