Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Thompson Seedless: San Joaquin's unsung hero...

Got time for a quiz?

Name the top 6 grape varietals grown in California last year (by tonnage)…

Ready? Chardonnay, Thompson Seedless, Cab Suav., Zinfandel, French Colombard, Merlot…

???? "What? What's this 'Thompson Seedless', " you say, "I've never seen that on the shelf..."
Perhaps not. But perhaps you have seen it in the produce aisle.
Perhaps even, you've drank it before, though it's an unsung part of California's Central & San Joaquin valley...

As a produce grape Thompson Seedless (TS) is rather good. It has a high sugar content, good (although somewhat neutral) flavor, light acidity, and is seedless. It produces a neutral wine, with no real varietal aromas.
99.5% of all TS is grown in Madera, Fresno, Tulare, Kings, and Kern counties for an average price of $96/ton (2003 data). It’s primarily grown for raisins, table grapes, white grape concentrate, juice, vinegar and brandy.


Gallo, which has both large concentrate and brandy interests, angered many San Joaquin growers by offering the unheard of price of $65/ton in August 2002 prompting many to tear out the vines & replant with more lucrative crops (almost anything at that point would’ve been better than selling at such a loss to Gallo – growers protested the fact that it cost from $90 to $180/ton to produce the crop to no avail).
(Eileen Fredrikson, of Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates [wine industry analysts], said of the conflict at the time "The problem in the Valley is not Gallo. The problem is that there are too few wineries that make the kind of wine for which the San Joaquin Valley traditionally has been known"….meaning cheap innocuous bulk wine. /huge)

So…how might it find it’s way into wine? Say you have a bottle of really cheap (as opposed to just inexpensive) Chardonnay. To get the price into a range that is really-really low, a producer could blend in 25% TS. Using the most inexpensive Chard they could find (San Joaquin Chard went for just $253/ton average in 2003), the total price per ton would be weighted to $213. Assuming an average yield of 175 gallons per ton, a 3% loss during manufacturing, and 5 bottles to the gallon, we arrive at a cost (before utilities, labor, equipment, packaging, etc.) of a mere 25¢/bottle! Using only the cheapest Chardonnay possible the price per bottle would be ~30¢ per bottle. However, 5¢/bottle savings is $600,000 if you’re moving a million cases. A penny saved is a penny earned, eh?

I’m not going to point fingers at anyone (for lack of anything more than just hearsay evidence)…but that’s quite an economic incentive to include some TS in your really low quality Chard blend.
What effect would that have on the finished wine? Dilute an already anemic aroma & flavor profile even further…but if you’re looking just for profits, and not worried about reputation or ever moving into the high-end market…
Oh well…


1 Comments:

Anonymous sweety said...

Wine scents is so important part in tasting wine! There is no flavour without scent...

December 18, 2007 9:11 AM  

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