BERKELEY - Wild weather produced a lighter wine harvest in California last year, which analysts say could provide breathing room for an industry coping with the budget-tightening effects of recession.

There were just over 3 million tons of wine grapes crushed last harvest, according to figures released by state agriculture. That was down about 6 percent from the year before. Looking at just red wine, the drop was sharper, down 9 percent, to 1.7 million tons.

"This recession has hit at a time in the supply cycle where we were pretty balanced," said Steve Fredricks, managing partner of Novato-based Turrentine Brokerage, a wine grape broker.

California wine sales growth in the U.S. slowed last year but still posted an increase of 2 percent with an estimated 196 million cases shipped, according to preliminary estimates. But sales have softened in restaurants, which is where many small wineries sell most of their wine, and retail consumers appear to be trading down to cheaper bottles.

Grape prices on average were higher in 2008 than the year before, according to the state report. Red wine grapes averaged $643, up 3 percent from 2007 and white wine grapes averaged $539, up 12 percent.

Grapes from the well-known Napa region fetched the highest price, averaging $3,390 per ton, up 4 percent from the year before. The white wine grape chardonnay was the most popular, accounting for just over 15 percent of the crus