Sonoma County's grape crop rose by 25% in 2009

The size of the North Coast grape crop jumped 25 percent last year, an unexpectedly large increase that will likely drive down wine prices for consumers while generating a $1 billion bounty for the region's growers.

Growers in Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties hauled in more than 444,000 tons of their prized wine grapes in 2009, reversing a three-year decline, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture's preliminary grape crush report issued Wednesday.

The rebound helped push the state's total grape crop to its second largest ever — 3.69 million tons, a 21 percent increase over 2008 and just shy of the record 2005 crush of 3.76 million tons.

"We knew it was big, but we did not think it was this big," said John Ciatti, partner in the Ciatti Company, a San Rafael wine and grape brokerage. "This crop will put additional pressure on the already struggling premium segment of the wine business."

The large crop and high quality of the vintage will make it tougher for North Coast growers to command high prices for their grapes and will continue to pressure wineries to slash prices.

That means higher-quality wines should be available at lower prices for the foreseeable future, said Brian Clements, a partner in Turrentine Brokerage, a Novato wine and grape broker.

"I think in general the consumer wins big this year," Clements said.

Statewide the size of the crop just missed a record, but because the average price rose to $608 a ton, the value soared to an all-time high of $2.2 billion.

The value of North Coast's grape crop increased 23 percent, to $1.05 billion, from $859 million the prior year, according to the report. The crop topped $1 billion for the first time in 2005, and remained there for the next two years before last year's anemic harvest dragged it back down.

In Sonoma County, local growers brought in nearly 212,000 tons of fruit, a 25 percent increase in volume and a 22 percent increase in value at $456 million, according to the report.

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