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North Coast grape crop shrinks again

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Correction added February 16, 2012:

The story below stated that Sonoma County would have 318,000 fewer cases of wine to sell. That figure referred to cabernet sauvignon only, not other varietals. There could be more than 1 million fewer cases of Sonoma County wine on the market for 2011.

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The value of the North Coast grape crop fell 8 percent to $869 million in 2011, the second year of declines after uncooperative weather took a toll on the region's valued crop.

Overall, the North Coast harvest shrank 12 percent last year, with a total of 378,128 tons of grapes crushed in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties.

Grape prices rose across the board as shortages were met with growing demand, putting increased pressure on wineries to find cost savings or consider raising prices for consumers.

Despite the drop in revenue, growers were optimistic about the future, with prices on the upswing and increased interest in their fruit.

“It's the first time in years that we've had demand for fruit,” said Jim Murphy, owner of Murphy Vineyards in Alexander Valley. “At least it's better than what we've had in the last couple of years.”

The preliminary report was released Friday by the California office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The size of the Sonoma County grape crop tumbled 17 percent below normal in 2011, a deep dip, but far less painful than many growers had feared. Many growers had been concerned the county's crop was as much as 30 percent below normal, a scenario that could have triggered declaration of a federal disaster area.

“We have more than I thought,” said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission. “It was a rough year, but obviously it wasn't as bad as some had feared.”

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