The county Vintner’s Association held its twice-a-year festival this past weekend, and as usual, it drew a crowd.

Thousands of wine worshippers showed up to celebrate, which included tasting some of the best viticulture product in all of California - and we say that with assurance such a statement will be challenged by devotees in other California wine regions which may have more international fame, but whose wines are certainly no match for those produced here in this and surrounding valleys.

The festival was the latest in a series of parties that stretches back three decades, and which has experienced phenomenal growth in recent years. The very first Vintner’s Association event was held at the Mission Santa Ines, and several hundred curious folks turned out to taste the product from 17 Valley winemakers.

The festival returned to the Mission this past Saturday, but the turnout was exponentially larger, and they all seemed to enjoy the fruits of the labors of more than 100 local winemakers.

There is another, important reason why the timing of this festival was so special - the annual county crop report, which shows wine grapes to be the region’s third-biggest crop, behind only strawberries and broccoli.

The crop report is hugely significant, because agriculture is, once again, the county’s top industry, and for the seventh consecutive year, it’s total value topped $1 billion. In fact, at $1.3 billion value in 2012, and using the basic economic multiplier effect, the total value of the ag industry to Santa Barbara County exceeded $2.5 billion.

The strawberry crop value in 2012 was more than $441 million, broccoli was at $310.5 million. Wine grapes came in with a total crop value of $91.1 million - not huge compared to strawberries and broccoli, but still 18 percent higher than the wine grape value in 2011.

And while wine grapes’ total harvested acreage stayed last year about where it was in 2011, the yield-per-acre was higher in 2012, and market prices were up an average of about $80 per ton.

Overall, the county’s total crop value two decades ago was about $500 million, which means the gross value has more than doubled - at a time when many fear that agriculture may be fading from the American economic scene. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This growth in agriculture - and especially in local vineyards - is crucial to the county and region’s economic health, but also could be an important factor as we head into an uncertain future. The ability to grow a wide variety of food crops could take on increasing importance, if the costs of transporting foods long distances increases, as they almost certainly will.

Reasons aplenty to toast local agriculture with a glass of your favorite, local wine.


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