Western Farm Presss. 29 November 2014. bulldozers are rumbling through Central Valley vineyards in California taking out thousands of vines, just as they did a little over a decade ago.

But the mood is different this time around after a year in which wine grape growers with long-term contracts fared far better than those without.

“This time, there’s not a lot of distress, not a lot of drama,” said Carson Smith, chairman of the San Joaquin Valley Winegrowers Association.

The reasons: Higher land values and increased equity put owners of vineyards in a better position. And other crops – led by almonds – afford growers of wine grapes better alternatives.

Several speakers made those points at a forum presented by the association in Fresno, where attendees also learned that the University of California has made or is in the process of making several significant hires in the viticulture research and advisory arena.

Jeff Bitter, vice president of Allied Grape Growers, said the number of dozers in the vineyards could simply be due to eagerness by some to switch to almonds or another crop. He said Allied estimates between 15,000 and 25,000 acres will be taken out this year.

Bitter and others said the Thompson Seedless grapes sold for concentrate took the sharpest hit this year as exports from Spain and Argentina undercut California producers, but they also pondered whether Argentina can sustain an export level that has dropped so low in the face of drastic currency devaluation.

This year’s grape and wine industry forum followed a different forum, with an emphasis on panels, with participants bouncing around often brief observations like ping pong balls.  read more