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041619 Wine crush .jpg

A farmworker drives on a row of grapes in a vineyard west of Los Alamos on Tuesday. The average price of grapes grown in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties remained the fifth highest in California last year, according to a new report.

The average price of grapes grown in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties remained the fifth-highest in California last year, cashing in at roughly $1,670 per ton.

Despite a 3.8% decrease from 2017's average price of $1,737 per ton, grapes grown in the tri-counties are worth double the statewide average of $832 per ton, according to the final 2018 Grape Crush Report. Released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture after a lengthy delay, the report tracks the price of and total tonnage of grapes crushed across California's 17 grape price districts.

Kevin Merrill, of Mesa Vineyard Management, said the report is sometimes used as a planning tool and price indicator of the coming year for vineyards, winemakers and investors.

Overall, 4.51 million tons of grapes, including table and raisin grapes, were crushed by California processors last year, a 6.2% increase over the 4.24 million tons that were crushed in 2017. A grape price district consisting of northern Kings and Tulare, Fresno, Madera, Mono, Alpine and Inyo counties led the state in production, growing 30% — 1.37 million tons — of all grapes crushed last year.

The tri-counties area was California's seventh-largest grape production region, growing 245,512 tons of grapes crushed in 2018. The total value of the region's grape crush could be as high as $410 million, slightly more than 2017's $404 million value.

An increase of red and white wine varietals, as well as table grapes, crushed in 2018 fueled the statewide increase in price and product, according to the report. The amount of red and white varietals crushed in 2018 rose by 8.8% and 3.8%, respectively, over 2017. The amount of table grapes crushed grew by 8% in the same period. 

Chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon were the most popular varietal crushed across the state, comprising almost 16% and 15%, respectively, of statewide totals. Both varietals were also popular in the tri-counties area, where they accounted for more than half of all crushed grapes.

Nearly 90,500 tons of locally grown cabernet sauvignon, and 41,550 tons of regional chardonnay grapes were crushed in 2018.

"Historically, chardonnay has been the big grape in Santa Barbara County," Merrill said. 

Pinot noir, merlot and syrah were also popular. Collectively, the three varietals comprised a quarter of all crushed grapes grown in the region.

Statewide, the average price of grapes rose by 6.8%, up to $832 from $778 per ton in 2017. Napa County, which is home to approximately 700 grape growers and 475 physical wineries, took the top spot, boasting an average price of $5,571 per ton of grapes.

Last year, chardonnay grown in tri-counties vineyards fetched an average of $1,493 per ton, a marginal increase over 2017's average per-ton price of $1,482. The average price per ton of cabernet sauvignon rose slightly in 2018, up to $1,530 to $1,482.

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Reach reporter Mathew Burciaga at 805-739-2205 or mburciaga@leecentralcoastnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @mathewburciaga

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Reporter

Mathew Burciaga is a Santa Maria Times reporter who covers education, agriculture and public safety. Prior to joining the Times, Mathew ran a 114-year-old community newspaper in Wyoming. He owns more than 40 pairs of crazy socks from across the globe.