Mostly cloudy

Working around the clock, Sonoma County growers may get 70% harvested

Dark clouds loomed over most of this grape growing season — at least figuratively speaking.

Now those big shadowy balls of moisture are literally racing across the Pacific Ocean. They're expected to dump an inch or more of rain across Sonoma County by Monday, possibly cutting short a year already plagued with problems.

People are working nearly around the clock to harvest the fruit and move it through the initial stages of the winemaking process.

Weather forecasts on Thursday called for scattered showers overnight followed by a period of gloomy calm before back-to-back storms are expected to drench the North Coast on Saturday and Sunday.

Growers say the weekend storms come as a mixed blessing, noting that until now October has offered near perfect conditions. But they say this year's late-ripening crop could have used a little more time.

"Until now, the weather has been great in the month of October," said Steve Hill, general manager of Durell Vineyard in Sonoma. "We were lucky to have gotten this many grapes off in the last two weeks."

Farmers are expected to be about 70 percent done with harvest by Friday night, said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission.

"It's pretty urgent to get the thin skinned grapes (such as chardonnay) harvested by Friday night," Frey said. "What will be left out there are cab and other thick-skin varietals that can hopefully take the rain reasonably well."

A few inches of rainfall are not unusual for October, but this year's harvest is a couple weeks late in ripening due to a cool summer.

This time of year, wet chardonnay grapes begin to mold after about 48 hours, Hill said. Most red grapes handle wet conditions much better than that, but if next week remains cool and moist, it could result in widespread outbreaks of mold.

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