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Wine Country Growers Grapple With Grape Glut

SONOMA COUNTY (KPIX 5) -- A massive harvest for grape growers in the North Bay means vintners have too many grapes and don't know what to do with the inventory.

Despite all money and all the glamour associated with the wine industry, vineyards really are just another sophisticated form of farming. And, as with all farming, there is risk involved.

Last year was a record harvest of grapes for California with more than 588 tons earning more than $2 billion. But a lot of that juice was stored. Now, combined with this year's huge crop, there's too much.

Zeke Neeley, the wine maker for Kenwood Vineyards, said the glut of grapes creates a financial problem.

"We're all sitting on a lot of wine from previous years. So, in general, I think the industry has more than it really has a demand for," said Neeley.

Kenwood is one of the premier vineyards in Sonoma Valley and produces its own label. However, some smaller vineyards are having a hard time selling their grapes during this over supply.

It's a sensitive topic that several smaller vineyards wouldn't discuss on camera. Some may be in trouble.

"I don't want quality vineyards to disappear. So, I'm hoping that demand picks up rather than supply going down," said Neeley.

Some wine drinkers think the oversupply may help them.

"I would think wine in California would get cheaper, no matter what," said wine enthusiast Bram Druckman.

Rod Laursen agreed.

"Well, I think it'll drive prices down and it only helps the consumer," said Laursen.

"Well, the issue is, maybe we're growing too many grapes, you know? We're over producing," explained Druckman.

There are also market complexities that may affect prices. A major merger between wine giants Gallo and Constellation Brands has been delayed, creating uncertainty in the market.

Neeley is confident things will settle down in the coming year.

"Now you're over supplied. People will then probably rip out some vineyards and maybe plant another crop at that point," said Neeley. "Three years from then, we will be under supplied. So, it's very cyclical and it's been that way since the Roman times."


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