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Harvest takes $142 million toll on North Coast growers

The Sonoma County grape crush fell 10.7 percent last year, a significant blow to the local economy but far less than the 20 percent drop many had predicted.

Still, the combination of falling grape prices and a smaller harvest in 2010 cost Sonoma County growers $88.4 million last year, according to a preliminary government report released Thursday.

"That has a ripple effect through our economy," said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission. "It will be felt by local suppliers, lenders and others servicing the grape industry."

Grape Harvest in Glen Ellen

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The value of the North Coast grape crop fell to $902.7 million last year, down from $1.05 billion in 2009. Sonoma County growers suffered the biggest hit, receiving $370.5 million for their fruit last year, down from $458.9 million in 2009.

Yet many had expected a more dire report.

"Everyone thought the crop was going to be even smaller this year," said Brian Clements, a partner at Turrentine Brokerage, a Novato grape brokerage firm. "This report surprised a lot of us."

A cooler than normal summer last year stunted growth through much of the season in Sonoma County, and then a sudden heat wave in August fried the under-developed grapes.

"It was like the grapes had been put in an oven," said Brandon Lapides, winemaker at Armida Winery in Dry Creek. "I'd never seen anything like it."

Armida Winery crushed 70 percent fewer grapes last year after the heat wave destroyed most of its crop, Lapides said.

Overall, the county's zinfandel harvest dropped 31 percent — making it the hardest hit of the county's major varietals and costing growers $10.9 million.


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