North Coast grape harvest breaks records

The good times kept rolling in 2013 for North Coast wineries and growers, thanks to another lucrative harvest that established new records for size and value.

Growers pulled in an estimated $1.42 billion worth of grapes on the North Coast last fall, a 2.2 percent increase from 2012, according to preliminary figures released Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The size of the region's grape crop grew 1.1 percent in 2013, with wineries crushing 562,036 tons of grapes from Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties combined. It surpassed 2012's record-setting harvest, when North Coast growers brought in 555,854 tons worth $1.38 billion.

"I've been doing this 25 years and I can't remember another time when we had two back-to-back big crops that produced high-quality wines," said Brian Clements, vice president and partner with Turrentine Brokerage, a Novato grape and wine broker.

The 2013 grape harvest also set new records across California, where the statewide crush surpassed 4.23 million tons, up from 4.01 million tons in 2012.

Napa County growers again commanded the highest prices in California for their grapes, averaging a record $3,691 a ton, up 3.5 percent from 2012. Grape prices rose 3 percent in Sonoma County, to a record $2,249 per ton. The gap in prices between the two counties widened for the fifth consecutive year, reflecting the increasingly costly premium that wineries are willing to pay for Napa fruit.

Growers in Mendocino and Lake counties saw smaller price increases, less than 2 percent, to $1,446 and $1,422 a ton respectively.

Last year's North Coast harvest was buttressed by excellent weather conditions, including no threat of rain. But a dearth of rainfall could have a major impact on the 2014 crop, notwithstanding last weekend's storms.

"The luxury we enjoyed in 2013 in terms of being able to let fruit hang on the vine without the threat of rain is now problematic in 2014 in terms of the drought," said Karissa Kruse, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers.

The 268,140 tons of grapes harvested in Sonoma County in 2013 also set a record, barely eclipsing the previous record set in 2012. Gross revenues totaled $603 million, a 3.5 percent increase over 2012's record.

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