CA Grapegrowers Focus on Prices, Labor, Water

Wines and Vines. Sacramento, Calif.—Three new directors of the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) told Wines & Vines what they hope to accomplish in their first three-year terms. The new slate brings diverse backgrounds and priorities to the influential statewide group for the winegrape industry.Bruce Phillips grows winegrapes in District 4, Napa County.  His aim is similar to Boer’s: Raising the profile of California winegrapes and wines on the world market. “My goal is to continue to promote quality and the application of innovative viticulture practices,” he said.

“I’m coming from the perspective of the small guy,” said Mike Boer, a grower in District 1, Mendocino County. As a 100-acre grower, rather than a 1,000-acre grower, he noted, “What works for one will not work for the other.”  Boer’s goal for his board term is to enlist cooperative marketing and other effective marketing means and return California grape prices—particularly in the North Coast—to the higher price tiers growers enjoyed five years ago. 

Boer said that average bottle prices are still too low to cover growers’ operating and land costs. Although he noted a modest increase in bottle prices this year, he feels that growers still have a long way to go. He commented that the challenge lies in conveying and creating added value to California wines to lessen consumer price resistance.  “The terrible drop goes back to 2001. As a grapegrower, this has been a lost decade,” Boer said.

He is an advocate for small-scale growers. “Conventional wisdom is that you have to get bigger to survive,” he said. Instead, he wants to spearhead research about how to survive and increase profitability without growing in size. “It goes beyond being just a grapegrower,” he said, implying that growers should consider the vertical step into winemaking.

Phillips emphasized the need to continue promoting sustainable viticulture practices. “From an economically viable standpoint, we need to examine how we’re treating our workers and that we’re cognizant of our land and water resources and the environmental impact.”  Deigo Olagaray, co-owner of Olagaray Brothers, a diversified agricultural business in District 11, Lodi, said he will focus his term on national and statewide legislation. “Labor and water are the two big challenges ahead of us in our state.”  read more