$37,301 Per Ton for Napa Cabernet

Feb 26, 2008

By far the hottest grape in California is Napa Valley Cabernet, which is the reason so many of the wines offered at Premiere Napa Valley (which I wrote a blog about yesterday) are of this variety. It commands big bucks.

Last week one thoughtful source of mine sent along some wine grape prices from the California grape crop report, which are a barometer for wine prices, supply and demand, and general trends about which grapes are hot and which are not.

This source is so good that he practically wrote this blog for me.

The top price for 1 ton of Napa Cabernet in 2007 was $37,301.59. Only 1.5 tons sold at that price, and my spy’s guess was that those grapes came from Beckstoffer’s To-Kalon Vineyard. Per-ton prices are usually a good indicator of price, since the industry uses a bottle price formula that essentially computes that $37,301 figure into a $373 bottle of wine (you just take the first three figures of any per-ton purchase and that’s about what you have to sell your wine for to make the purchase pay off). Another 120 tons of Cabernet sold for more than $15,000.

The per-ton price can be misleading, of course, since it’s only 1.5 tons, which might mean 90 cases. Still, that’s the way winemakers compute the per-ton price.

That $37,301 figure is about $10,000 more than the previous high-water mark I’d heard of a few years ago, which was $27,500 for Beckstoffer Cabernet, purchased by Paul Hobbs. In turn, he charged $275 a bottle.

“Even at $37,301 per ton it is only $18.65 per pound,” my spy figured, adding, “It’s cheaper than a pound of Kobe beef … I think it's still cheaper than a pound of pot. They don’t publish a crop report for that stuff.”

Some other high-end grape prices are listed below. (You can look up all the figures here. It's a long pdf, so look for District 3 for Sonoma and District 4 for Napa, etc.) Remember, these prices might only be for a few tons and only vineyards that sell their grapes (as opposed to estate-grown) report prices. So a winery that grows its own grapes doesn’t reveal what it costs to grow the grapes to the state, or what they might fetch on the open market.

Not surprisingly, Pinot Noir is fetching higher prices, my spy noted, with some grapes selling in the $11,000 to $13,000 per ton range. Here are the highest prices for the hottest varieties in Napa and Sonoma, reported in that order.

Cabernet: Napa, $37,301; Sonoma, $10,000

Cabernet Franc: Napa, $15,000; Sonoma, 10,000

Chardonnay: Napa, $7,000; Sonoma, $7,170; Monterey, $4,000; Santa Barbara, $5,923

Merlot: Napa, $12,887; Sonoma, $10,000

Pinot Noir: Napa, $13,343; Sonoma, $11,464; Monterey, $7,944; Santa Barbara, $11,411

Pinot Gris: Sonoma, $7,438

Syrah: Napa, $7,918; Sonoma, $6,543.

Zinfandel: Napa, $6,100; Sonoma, $5,884.

One final note from my spy: Santa Barbara now has the highest price-per-ton average for Pinot Noir, at $2,909, followed by Sonoma, at $2,813, and Napa (mostly Carneros), at $2,417. San Bernardino and Los Angeles, counted as one district, did post a per-ton average price of $3,725 on 76 tons. “Wonder which rock star planted Pinot?”

United States California Napa Sonoma Red Wines Cabernet Sauvignon

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