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April 2017, Volume 23, Number 2

Wine, Food

California crushed 4.2 million tons of grapes in 2016, up from 3.9 million tons in 2015, including 2.3 million tons of red grape varieties and 1.7 million tons of white varieties. The average price for red varieties was $918 a ton, and for white varieties $598 a ton. The average price of all wine grapes was $763 a ton, up 10 percent from 2015.

Some 16 percent of grapes crushed were Chardonnay, followed by 13 percent Cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent Zinfandel, seven percent French Colombard, and six percent each Merlot and Pinot Noir. About 10 percent of the grapes crushed were used as natural sweeteners in food products rather than made into wine.

The production of wine grapes is increasingly mechanized. Harvesting has been mechanized for decades, and machines have been developed to prune in winter and to pull leaves in summer to allow the sun to reach grapes. Napa-Sonoma growers who receive the highest prices for grapes have been the slowest to mechanize.

Napa's 1,300-acre Stagecoach Vineyard http://www.stagecoachvineyard.com) was developed in the 1990s by Jan Krupp and produced grapes for over 90 Napa wineries was bought by Gallo in spring 2017. Gallo and Jackson Family Wines are privately owned wineries that are buying farm land, Gallo in Napa and Sonoma and Jackson in Oregon, while publicly traded Constellation Brands has been selling land. Gallo in Fall 2016 got its first 100-point rating from Robert Parker for a 2013 Louis Martini Lot No. 1 Cabernet, whose retail price soon doubled to $300 a bottle.

The Silicon Valley Bank's annual report on the wine industry predicted that half of the small premium US wineries could be sold within the next five years, as those who developed them retire without relatives to continue the business. California has 3,000 wine tasting rooms, many operated by small wineries that try to sell most of their wine to visitors and wine club members. Small European wineries are sometimes sold to pay inheritance taxes.

Nielsen, which says 550,000 stores in the US sell wine, reported that the average cost of a 750 ml bottle of wine was $10 in 2016, the first time that the average price was above $10. Costco has almost 50 million members who spend over $100 billion a year at its 500 US warehouse stores, including $4 billion on alcoholic beverages.

Food. The Environmental Working Group releases an annual "dirty dozen" list of produce items with the most pesticide residues. The EWG put strawberries and spinach at the top of the list in 2017, followed by nectarines, apples, peaches, celery, grapes, pears, cherries, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, and potatoes. (www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty_dozen_list.php)

The so-called clean 15 list of produce items with the fewest residents included: sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, honeydew melon, kiwis, cantaloupe, cauliflower and grapefruit.

Food Stamps or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provide $71 billion a year in benefits to low-income US residents. A USDA study found that 20 percent of SNAP spending at a national retailer in 2011, equivalent to $14 billion today, was for sweetened beverages, desserts, salty snacks, and candy, prompting questions about whether taxpayers should be subsidizing the purchase of junk food.

States and cities that tried to eliminate junk foods from SNAP have been rebuffed by USDA, which is reluctant to limit what can be bought with SNAP benefits. SNAP benefits cannot be used to buy alcohol and tobacco, demonstrating that stores already distinguish between eligible and ineligible items. The Food Stamp Act of 1977 put in place most of the current restrictions.

Mexico has been taxing sugary drinks since 2014, and sales fell five percent in 2015 and 10 percent in 2016 compared with 2013. Makers of sugary drinks say that there is not yet evidence that obesity rates are falling.

Americans in 2016 consumed more bottled water than soda, 39 gallons per person compared to 38 gallons, down from less than 30 gallons of bottled water and over 50 gallons of soda in 2006. Nestle accounts for about a quarter of bottled water sales, followed by Coca Cola with 20 percent and Pepsi with 10 percent. Spending on soda in 2016 was $40 billion, compared to $21 billion for bottled water.

The Food Marketing Institute says that Americans spent $770 billion on groceries in 2016, including food and drink. Amazon is experimenting with a variety of ways to allow consumers to order and pick up groceries without leaving their cars and obtaining items in convenience stores without waiting for cashiers. So-called frictionless commerce or automated check out that could displace some of the 3.4 million US cashiers.

A study published in Agricultural Systems found that 10 percent of the world's food was wasted due to "overconsumption" and nine percent via spoilage. (www.journals.elsevier.com/agricultural-systems) There is more waste of meat, milk, and eggs than crops, so that rising meat consumption could increase food waste.

Famine. The UN in February 2017 declared that up to 20 million people in Nigeria (five million), Somalia and Yemen (seven million) face famine, defined as a situation when 20 percent or more of households face extreme food shortages; more than 30 percent of the population is acutely malnourished; and two or more of every 10,000 die each day for lack of food. The major reasons for famine in the three countries is that they are experiencing civil wars, and leaders are blocking food aid to pressure their opponents.