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January 2019, Volume 25, Number 1

Wine, Food

World wine production rose 12 percent from 251 million hectoliters in 2017 to 282 million hectoliters or 7.5 billion gallons in 2018; one hectoliter is 26.4 gallons. Italy produced 17 percent of the world's wine in 2018, followed by France with 16 percent and Spain with 15 percent; these three countries produced 48 percent of the world's wine.

The US was the fourth largest producer, accounting for eight percent of the world's wine in 2018, followed by Argentina and Chile, five percent each, and Australia, four percent. Wine grapes are 75 percent water.

California. The price of prime vineyards in the Napa Valley topped $400,000 an acre in 2018; land in outlying areas of Napa county sold for $75,000 an acre. Sonoma county has 1.5 times more vineyards than the 40,000 in Napa, and its vineyard prices ranged from $75,000 to $175,000 an acre.

Harvard's $39 billion endowment is investing in California vineyards with ready access to groundwater via Brodiaea and other entities near Shandon in San Luis Obispo county. However, irrigating vineyards accelerates the decline of groundwater levels, causing concern. Harvard valued its vineyards in 2018 at $305 million, up from $100 million in 2013.

Several hedge funds and REITs are buying farm land with rights to water in arid areas, betting on healthy returns. Local firm Grapevine Capital Partners LLC pitched the idea of buying vineyards to Harvard.

Food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in November 2018 warned consumers to avoid all Romaine lettuce due to E. coli bacteria that sickened 59 people. E. coli were found in an irrigation reservoir at the Adam Brothers Family Farm in Santa Barbara county.

An earlier 2018 outbreak of E. coli in Romaine lettuce killed five people and sickened 200 and led to an increase in the recommended distance between cattle feed lots and fields with leafy green vegetables.

The Environmental Working Group in December 2018 released its dirty dozen list of fresh produce items with pesticide residues. Strawberries and spinach topped the list, followed by nectarines, apples, grapes, and peaches. The Clean 15 fruits and vegetables were led by avocados and sweet corn, followed by pineapples, cabbages, onions and peas.

Food companies are raising prices, often by developing variations on standard brands and new packaging to conceal the price increases. Three-fourths of Americans select their primary grocery store based on their perception that it has the lowest prices. Some grocery stores are introducing more private label items to provide an alternative to more expensive national brands.

Coffee. Coffee prices in Fall 2018 fell to their lowest levels since the 2008-09 financial crisis. One study estimated average production costs of $1.40 a pound, and found that coffee prices were below $1.40 for almost all of 2017 and 2018, and were $1 a pound in December 2018. Coffee prices approached $3 a pound in 2011.

A major reason for low coffee prices is the 14 percent devaluation of the Brazilian real, which increased Brazilian exports to over 35 million 132-pound bags in 2018.

A third of the world's coffee that is exported goes through some form of fair-trade, which often offers premium prices. Persisting low prices have encouraged more farms or fincas to join fair-trade coops and associations.

Sugar. Israel's Amai Proteins in October 2018 reported that it had created several "designer" proteins several thousand times sweeter than sugar, mostly free of an aftertaste, and healthy to digest. Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and natural sweeteners such as stevia-leaf extract are "small molecules" that pass through the body after being digested by the liver and kidneys. Cargill sells a protein-based sweetener extracted from the resulting stevia-leaf glycosides called EverSweet that is 250 to 280 times sweeter than sugar.

Amai is fermenting plant-based sweet proteins in a lab that are digested more naturally than small molecules. Amai says that two milligrams of its white powder can replace a teaspoon of sugar with 16 calories, while its proteins are calorie-free. SodaStream International is testing the sweet proteins.