The heart of the U.S. wine industry still beats in and near Stanislaus County.
E.&J. Gallo Winery of Modesto remained No. 1 in domestic sales by volume in 2007, according to the latest issue of Wine Business Monthly.
Gallo does not disclose its figures, but the magazine estimated that it shipped about 66 million cases of wine to U.S. markets last year. That's a healthy increase from the 2005 estimate of 62 million cases.
No. 2 last year was Constellation Brands at 59 million cases, up from 57 million. It has a winery in Madera County among its far-flung operations.
No. 3 was The Wine Group at 44 million cases, up from 42 million. It produces at the Franzia Winery near Ripon and elsewhere. The figures do not reflect the company's purchase last month of the Almaden and Inglenook brands from Constellation.
No. 4 was Bronco Wine Co. near Ceres, at about 20 million cases, down from 22 million.
DFV Wines, the new name for Deli- cato Family Vineyards in Manteca, moved from 13th in 2006 to 12th last year. Its production stayed at about 2 million cases.
The overall growth of the San Joaquin Valley producers reflects the relatively good times in the U.S. industry. Demand is up, especially for bottles priced at $7 or more. Competition from imports has eased, for reasons that include drought in Australia and reform of grower subsidies in Europe.
At the same time, California grape harvests have stabilized after the glut early in the decade and a huge harvest in 2005.
This would suggest that grape growers would make more money per ton, but that's not the case everywhere in California.
Growers in Merced, Stanislaus and southern San Joaquin County got an average of $287.98 per ton last year, virtually unchanged from 2006, the California Department of Food and Agriculture reported last week.
The Lodi area had an average price of $393.86 per ton, down 6 percent.
Compare that with the Napa Valley, where the average price last year rose 7 percent to $3,132.14 per ton.
Statewide, the average price last year was $555.86, down from $581.43.
"It appears that the industry is moving towards balance in supply and demand, but caution is still needed prior to planting speculatively," said John Crossland, chairman of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, in a news release.
Grower advocates urged wineries to boost their prices at last month's Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento. They said the demand is out there, but it will be met more and more by imports if California's growers turn to other crops.
"We have to step up and do what we have to do to get back the (market) share for California wines," said Nat DiBuduo, president of Fresno-based Allied Grape Growers.
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