Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
You cited stats of about 8 tons per acre of wine grapes harvested in California. That seems very high. In a recent Sonoma County visit, no one mentioned yields greater than 4 tons an acre—and that’s visiting about 20 wineries. Also, lower yields produce better flavors. So why the seeming disparity?
—Rik H., Jeffersonville, Pa.
I don’t doubt that the vineyards you visited in Sonoma are below the state’s average yields. But Sonoma County’s 57,000-ish acres of grapes represent only about 12 percent of the state’s current 476,377 acres of wines grapes total. If you drive around to other parts of California, like the 71,000 acres of wine grapes in San Joaquin County, the 35,000 acres in Madera County or the 20,000 acres in Merced, I bet you’d see some of the other ends of the grape-yield spectrum.
That’s honestly not meant as a dig on the grapes grown in those regions. Wine is a business, and in those areas, land is more affordable and the regions don’t have as much cachet, so different types of grapes are grown for different types of wines. Do lower yields produce better-flavored wines? Some of the best wines I’ve had are from vineyards with yields that are close to just 1 ton per acre, but I’ve had some pretty terrible wines from low-yielding vineyards, too. Vintages also play a part in yield variation, and some grapes are just naturally big (or small) producers.
It comes down to economics. In places like Napa or Sonoma, there’s a higher demand, land costs more, and the result is that there are lower yields and different returns on the cost of growing, selling and buying grapes. Maybe the high-yield grapes aren’t in the wines that you or I drink right now, but I think that more people drinking wine is good news for all of us. After all, college-age Dr. Vinny started off drinking wine from high-yield vineyards, and look at me now.
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