The latest news from wine grape growers in California is good, and because vineyards have become such a major industry here in our little corner of paradise, good news for California is great news for local businesses.

The state Department of Food and Agriculture issued its annual grape-crush report a few days ago, and the 2012 totals set a new record, with a yield 13-percent higher than 2011. What had been the industry’s highest yield ever, in 2005, was topped by a full 1 percent last year.

State vineyards produced just under 4.4 million tons of grapes, with red wine grapes on top with nearly 2.3 million tons.

Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties make up District 8 of California’s 17 grape districts, and the three leading white grape varietals produced nearly 875 tons in 2012. The leading reds produced nearly 2,900 tons. Local prices per ton in District 8 were higher than the statewide average.

Why, exactly, is this important?

The grape yield is always important for the local economy, but news from overseas really underscores the significance of our 2012 crop. Industry experts predict global wine production will fall to its lowest levels in nearly four decades, mostly because climate change is wreaking weather havoc in many areas. The world is facing a wine shortage of epic proportions — about 1.3 billion bottles below expected demand.

Thus, the importance of the anticipated 7-percent-plus increase in U.S. production. And because California is home to nearly half of this country’s wineries, this state — this county has more than 110 wineries and nearly 110 tasting rooms — could reap enormous economic benefits.

In 1993, wine consumption per person in American was about a gallon a year. As of the end of last year, consumption had increased to 2.73 gallons per person.

Still, even as production and consumption increase, this country still is not in the top 20 globally in consumption on a per-capita basis.

Setting aside for a moment issues regarding potential over-consumption and misuse of beverages containing alcohol, experts still debate why Americans are increasingly turning from hard-liquor drinks and beer to wine.

Most of us who live in the midst of a growing and important wine district understand the shift to wines — they taste darn good, and science indicates certain wines have health benefits too significant to ignore.

The economic benefit from the wine industry is also very real. Last year, Santa Barbara County agriculture, as an industry, totaled nearly $1.2 billion in crop yield, and grapes played a major role. And that $1.1 billion-plus blossomed into nearly a $2.5-billion boost to the local economy, when applying the economic-multiplier effect.

However you choose to look at it, agriculture is a dominating factor on the Central Coast, and grape growers/wineries are a huge part of the big picture.

And reason enough to toast the local wine industry with a favorite white or red.


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