California's wineries harvested their largest ever crop in 2005, according to official figures just released - but grape prices are expected mostly to hold steady.

In all, more than 3.7m tons of grapes were picked in the state, a 35% rise on 2004's total, and bigger than the previous record year of 2000.

Of the major grape varieties, quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon were up 50% on 2004, while Chardonnay was up 41%, Merlot 48% and Pinot Noir 34%.

The bumper crop sparked fears of a fall in grape prices, which have recovered in the past two years after recession-fuelled decreases in 2001 and 2002.

But official figures show that weighted prices for wine grapes were 1.8% higher than in 2004. The fashionable Pinot Noir showed a 7.5% price increase, while average prices for Merlot plummeted by 8.8%.

Nick Frey of the Sonoma County Grape Growers Association said the quality of the harvest was excellent, comparing it to 1997. "Bottom line - the glass is half-full even after a large harvest," he added.