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Supply chain issues, bottle shortage and drought create ‘perfect storm’ of problems for wineries

Supply chain issues, bottle shortage and drought create 'perfect storm' of problems for wineries

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Supply chain issues, bottle shortage and drought create ‘perfect storm’ of problems for wineries

Calif. wildfires: Smoke may have destroyed the year’s wine grape cropsMany wineries suffered structural damage in Napa Valley’s Glass Fire, but smoke from California’s wildfires could have broader consequences.USA TODAYWhen Michael Kaiser, vice president of government affairs at WineAmerica, asked members what they were worried about this wine season, he repeatedly heard one answer: concerns about a glass bottle shortage.Amid fires and drought, pandemic-era supply chain woes are taking aim at one of California’s most beloved exports: wine. Shortages have left many winemakers with too much wine and not enough bottles.“If you don’t have the bottles that you need, how are you going to get the product out of barrels and to customers?” Kaiser said, adding the shortages come at a time when many winemakers have just harvested this season’s grapes.WineAmerica, a trade association consisting of 500 wineries, suppliers and associations, is based in Washington, D.C. Phil Long, owner of Longevity Wines in Livermore, California, said one of the consequences of the bottle shortage is many must leave wine in oak barrels for longer, giving the wine a strong — possibly overpowering — oaky flavor.Wine shortage? Wine supply – and prices – could be affected by wildfire smoke“If the oak just totally smothers the flavor of the fruit, it’s like drinking a sawmill,” he said.Long said smaller, family-owned wineries like his own are facing the worst challenges because larger wineries may have more tanks to move their wine to, so that they don’t sit in oak for too long. Smaller wineries with only so much capacity may have to leave wine in barrels.Long has moved some of his wine into tanks but has had to leave the rest in barrels. It hasn’t been long enough yet to shift the flavor of the wine, he said, but he’s worried. In the meantime, he bought glass from other wineries to offset the shortage.Stephanie Honig of Honig Vineyard & Winery in Napa Valley, California, said her production team saw the shortage coming and was able to plan ahead by shipping in glass from China, Mexico and France. Now, they’re planning their bottling 18 months ahead of time to try to stay ahead of the shortage.Still, Honig said even wineries that expected the shortage have fewer glass options, leading many to mix and match types of glasses or opt for bottles that “just aren’t those nice, fancy, heavy bottles.” Others who didn’t order early are “scrambling to get what they need,” she said.Solving the issue isn’t as simple as switching packaging options. Switching from glass bottles to cans, for example, can be a “logistical nightmare,” because wineries that use bottling lines don’t have the equipment for canning, which can have a huge upfront cost, Honig said.Some locals have suggested she try a bottle reuse program that encourages people to send empty bottles back. Honig said this would also come with logistics issues. The winery ships its wine around the world, so shipping costs and additional energy use would be high.Bottles aren’t the only items in short supply, winemakers say. Nearly everything needed to make and distribute wine — from wood and cardboard to truck drivers — is in short supply.“It’s been hard,” Honig said.Kaan Kurtural, professor of viticulture — or the study of the cultivation of grapes for winemaking — at the University of California, Davis, said “glass shortages are probably the least of winemakers’ worries.” Instead, he pointed to low grape yields due to drought as a greater concern.California, among other Western states, reported its warmest summer on record this year as 18% of the U.S. experienced record-warm temperatures, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Severe to extreme drought is affecting about 35% of the country, according to NOAA’s September report.Kurtural said “one of the worst droughts in recorded history” would affect the wine industry for at least two more years. Add supply chain issues and increasing energy and fertilizer prices and “it’s a perfect storm,” he added.Honig said her vineyard’s grape yield is down by a third due to drought. She said the drop in yield was beyond what they expected and came as a shock.“There’s a lot more uncertainty,” she said. “It’s definitely a stressful change.”Long echoed concerns about drought and climate change. Smoke taint has also become more of an issue in the last five years amid increasing wildfires.“When there are fires, that heavy, heavy smoke kind of just sticks around, gets into the grapes,” Long said. “In the end, it’s like wine that somebody put out their cigarette in.”One of the vineyards that supplies Longevity with grapes recently lost its entire crop to smoke taint, Long said. Kurtural said smoke taint isn’t currently a major issue for vineyards in most wine-producing areas of the country.Kaiser from WineAmerica said the issues impacting the wine industry have yet to hit customers  directly, whether through increased prices or low stock in stores. Those may be on the horizon, depending on how long the issues persist, he said.“It may get to the point where it may be difficult to find some of your favorite wines,” he said. “It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.”Honig encouraged people to support local winemakers who may be most affected by issues plaguing the industry.“It’s not a forever situation,” she said. “So be patient with us and continue to support us, and we’ll come out on the other end of it together.”Contact News Now Reporter Christine Fernando at cfernando@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.


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