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Sonoma County grape value jumps 60% in year

  • Bertha Diaz plants new pinot noir and chardonnay vines in a greenhouse at Novavine, in Santa Rosa, on Monday, June 17, 2013.

    (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

A strong grape harvest and growing demand for young vines boosted Sonoma County agriculture above $821 million in value in 2012, a 41 percent increase over 2011, according to a new report from the county agricultural commissioner.

The jump was driven largely by a record year for wine grapes, with 267,000 tons worth almost $583 million, an increase of 60 percent over 2011, which was considered a poor year.

"We're in a recovery phase after 2010 and 2011 were so low .<TH>.<TH>. everyone's feeling good," said Karissa Kruse, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers.

Sales from plant nurseries jumped about $9 million in 2012, to $33.5 million. That was driven by huge demand for grape vines, both rootstock and varietals for grafting, a potentially lucrative new market for the county.

Santa Rosa's Novavine has nearly doubled its sales in three years, from 3.5 million vines to about 6.5 million this year and next, CEO Jay Jensen said. Even after expanding its facilities, the company is sold out for 2014 and is accepting orders for 2015.

"It goes back to the recession," he said. "A lot of vineyards and large operators just didn't do plantings," resulting in huge pent-up demand.

Now that the economy is turning around, and a longstanding surplus of bulk wine for value-priced labels is used up, producers nationwide are in a frenzy of replanting, and some are setting up large new vineyards for bulk-wine production, he said.

Sales are particularly strong in Texas and the Mid-Atlantic, though the company is shipping as far as China, he said.

Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar will present the annual crop report to the supervisors today<NO1>Tuesday<NO>. He said the numbers in the report probably represent the new status quo for the Sonoma County's agriculture sector for years to come.

After years of growth in vineyard acreage, the amount of easily planted land is used up, he said. The acreage probably will stabilize a bit above 60,000. It was just over 59,000 in 2012 and hit a high of around 63,000 before the recession, a number that growers agree is probably close to the upper limit of the county's available vineyard space.

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