California’s 2009 grape harvest 2nd-largest in history

Wine lovers in California have something to toast.

The state’s grape growers and wineries saw a bigger-than-expected harvest in 2009, according to a report issued Wednesday, amounting to the second-biggest crop in California history.

For consumers, the year’s bounty is expected to bring more availability and cheaper prices for all types of California wine, particularly premium and ultra-premium wines.

Wineries in the state crushed 3.7 million tons of grapes last year, up about 20% compared with a relatively light 2008, and nearing the record 2005 harvest.

All major varietals showed growth, with chardonnay leading the pack in volume at about 726,000 tons, up 28% from the 2008 harvest. Pinot grigio, at 145,330 tons, boasted the largest percentage increase -- up 61% compared with the year before.

The preliminary numbers are part of an annual report released by the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The increase is expected to slow competition from out-of-state wineries, which benefited from a slow 2008, said John Ciatti, partner in the Ciatti Co. grape and wine brokerage.

“This crop will put additional pressure on the already struggling premium segment of the wine business,” Ciatti said.

The cost of wine grapes was down last year, a decrease attributed to factors including the large crop and a slumping economy.