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Pace of vineyard development is accelerating

Linegar's office, which processes applications for all vineyard plantings, has been inundated with work, he said.

"It is hard to keep up with the volume we've received lately, and we're doing our best to turn them around as quickly as we can," Linegar said.

Grapes are the most valuable crop in Sonoma County, where growers sold $583 million of the fruit last year harvested from nearly 59,000 acres of vineyards.

Now, they are reinvesting some of that money back into their vineyards. Over the last two and half years, growers and wineries have filed applications to plant nearly 1,500 acres of new vineyards in Sonoma County and replant more than 2,300 acres of existing vineyards.

The pace of activity quickened last winter and this spring. So far, 75 applications for new or replanted vineyards have been filed with the Agricultural Commissioner's office this year, up from 44 filings during the same period last year, according to public records.

"During the height of the recession, when nobody could sell grapes, there were a lot of vineyards that were pulled out because they were at the end of their useful life and the market was weak," said Nick Frey, former president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers. "So those are getting replanted now."

"There are a few people that are planting new vineyards," Frey continued. "Probably Jackson Family Wines is one of the more aggressive."

More than a third of the new vineyard acreage proposed in Sonoma County since the start of 2012 has been sought by Jackson Family Wines, according to property records.

The company proposed a 107-acre vineyard on Browns Lane in Petaluma and another 40-acre vineyard on Ramal Road in Sonoma. Vineyard managers applied to plant two vineyards on land owned by the company, including a 224-acre vineyard on Browns Lane in Petaluma and an 89-acre vineyard on Bennett Valley Road outside Santa Rosa.

Jackson Family Wines spokesman Jason Hunke declined to be interviewed for this story.

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