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Grape harvesters rush to beat the rain

  • Manuel Alvarez, an employee with Bevill Vineyard Management, sorts through freshly picked cabernet sauvignon grapes near Healdsburg. (Beth Schlanker / PD)

Overnight rain dampening the North Coast and its unpicked grapes won't dampen the spirits of grape growers, winemakers and winery owners buoyed by what they're calling the best harvest in years.

About one inch of rain is expected to fall, most of it coming this morning. Tuesday and Wednesday could have showers off and on coupled with cool afternoons and cold mornings.

Grape harvesters probably follow weather forecasts closer than they're following the Giants playoff games. Everyone with grape skin in the harvesting game knew last week that a cold storm was on the way.

But with the rain forecast bumped up from Tuesday to sometime after midnight Sunday, vineyard managers late last week hustled to add night and Sunday crews to the schedule.

“Everybody is scrambling to get something done,” said vineyard manager Duff Bevill on Sunday. Crews would stay on the job “until the rains run us out of the fields.”

By midnight Sunday, Sonoma County grape experts predicted about 80 percent of the year's overall crop would be picked.

What's left mostly will be cabernet sauvignon, a tougher grape that can handle a little rain, said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission.

“The impact should be fairly minimal,” Frey said.

This storm is the first real rain expected so far this fall.

It's a cold storm too, with this afternoon in Santa Rosa expected to reach 60 degrees, compared with 73, which is the average high for Oct. 22 in Santa Rosa.

The low Sunday at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport was 39 degrees. Early morning grape pickers in some areas Sunday worked in temperatures dipping into the 30s.

The colder weather is preferable to picking in heat, said Roberto Mendoza of Windsor. Mendoza, a longtime supervisor for Bevill Vineyard Management, was working Sunday in northern Healdsburg with two crews of grape pickers.

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