The 2012 North Coast grape harvest was both the largest and most valuable in history, far exceeding the expectations of the region's wineries and growers.
Growers pulled in an estimated $1.4 billion worth of grapes on the North Coast last fall, a whopping 58 percent increase from 2011, according to preliminary figures released Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The size of the region's grape crop grew 46 percent in 2012, when wineries crushed 552,874 tons of grapes from Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties combined. It was the largest since the bumper crop of 2005, when North Coast growers brought in 505,576 tons worth $1.1 billion.
"It's very impressive," said Nick Frey, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers. "We knew it was good, we had no idea it was this good. After two tough years for growers, this is really great news, and it's going to have a good impact on our local economy. It's a huge increase in grape revenues."
The 2012 grape harvest set new records across California, where the statewide crush surpassed 4 million tons for the first time in history.
"What's amazing to me is that it surprised most in the industry, for sure," said Brian Clements, vice president and partner with Turrentine Brokerage, a Novato grape and wine broker. "I'm getting phone calls from wineries and growers saying, &‘Can you believe it?' The reason that everyone's surprised is that the demand was there throughout California."
In Sonoma County, wineries crushed 266,101 tons of grapes last year, a 60 percent increase from the previous year. The value of the county's crop grew 67 percent to $581 million.
"Many wineries will be able to replenish their inventories, because after the short harvests of 2010 and 2011, wineries were scrambling to be able to make wines and keep their customers happy, and sell wines not only locally, but also across the country and around the world," said Honore Comfort, executive director of Sonoma County Vintners.
The size of Sonoma County's pinot noir, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon crops all reached record levels and also retained high quality, which is not always the case during a bumper crop, Clements said. There could be 1.7 million more cases of Sonoma County pinot noir produced from the 2012 vintage than the previous year, he estimated.
"The one that's holding the winning ticket is the consumer, because there's going to be fantastic wines produced from this vintage," Clements said. "You could call it the vintage of the century. This is great."
The weather throughout the growing season was ideal, and there were no sustained heat waves to send sugar levels spiking, said Scott Zapotocky, director of vineyards for Paul Hobbs Winery in Sebastopol.
"It was a really sustained growing season, so when the grapes were coming into the winery we were seeing very good balance between sugar levels and the level of acidity of the grapes, as well as the most important thing, flavor development," Zapotocky said. "To get all those things in harmony, while hitting our yield projections, it was an outstanding harvest."
The increased tonnage was the main reason for the substantial revenue spikes in Sonoma and Napa counties. The average price of grapes in Sonoma County grew 4.8 percent to $2,182 per ton, and in Napa grape prices rose 5.6 percent to $3,579 a ton. Napa County's crop grew 49 percent to 181,183 tons.