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In brief: Washington wine grape growers set harvest record

KENNEWICK – Washington wine grape growers set a record last year.

About 210,000 tons of wine grapes were harvested, up 12 percent from the previous year’s record harvest, according to data released Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Red varieties surpassed white varieties for the second year in a row, supporting the idea that cabernet sauvignon is king. Cabernet sauvignon was the state’s top variety, with 42,600 tons of wine grapes. Chardonnay gave up the crown, slipping to the second-largest variety at 40,500 tons.

Third was white riesling at 40,200 tons, and fourth was merlot at 36,000 tons.

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that whistleblower protections under federal law apply broadly to employees of publicly traded companies and contractors hired by the companies.

The justices voted 6-3 in favor of two former employees of companies that administer the Fidelity family of mutual funds. The workers claimed they faced retaliation after they reported allegations of fraud affecting Fidelity funds.

The case involved the reach of a provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed in 2002 in response to the Enron scandal, which protects whistleblower activity. The measure was intended to protect people who expose the kind of corporate misdeeds that arose at Enron.

Bitcoin bank closes after high-tech heist

SAN FRANCISCO – A bank specializing in bitcoins said it has closed after computer hackers robbed its digital currency.

The closure of the Flexcoin bank comes just a week after the collapse of Mt. Gox, a major bitcoin exchange.

Mt. Gox also linked its demise to an electronic heist.

The twin failures of Mt. Gox and Flexcoin will likely raise more doubts about bitcoin’s ability to establish itself as an alternative currency.

Hackers stole 896 bitcoins from Flexcoin’s online vault, or “hot wallet,” according to a notice on Flexcoin’s website Tuesday. That translates into a loss of about $600,000, based on bitcoin’s current trading value.

Flexcoin’s losses aren’t covered by deposit insurance. The Alberta bank says it can’t recover from the setback.

Feds end inquiry into Ford cars, SUVs

DETROIT – The federal government is closing an investigation into 1.6 million Ford vehicles that can lose engine power after Ford agreed to a remedy.

The yearlong investigation involves Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner SUVs and Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan sedans from the 2009 through 2013 model years.

Some of these vehicles can suddenly lose power because of material buildup in the electronic throttle bodies. While the engines don’t stall, vehicle speeds can drop as low as 5 miles per hour.

The new software won’t fix the issue, but it will allow affected vehicles to travel at least 40 mph in what is known as “limp home mode.”

Home prices increase 0.9 percent in January

WASHINGTON – U.S. home prices rose in January after three months of declines as a tight supply of properties likely supported prices despite slower sales.

Real estate data provider CoreLogic said Tuesday that prices rose 0.9 percent in January after dipping 0.1 percent in December. Over the past 12 months, home prices have risen 12 percent, the biggest year-over-year gain in more than eight years.