Storm wallops Wine Country

  • Ned Hill, the owner of La Prenda Vineyards Management, walks through Kasper Vineyard looking over the Merlot grapes for any sign of mold and making sure they can be picked the within the next day. Photo taken on Sunday, October 24, 2010, in Sonoma, California. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

The strong weekend storm that drenched the North Bay landed a staggering blow on area grape growers, who are now racing to complete the harvest before mold and another looming storm provide a knockout punch.

The two-day front walloped Wine Country, dropping 4 inches on many parts of Sonoma County and causing minor flooding, power outages and widespread road problems.

The storm also set up a tight race against the clock for grape growers. Many were rushing to complete their harvest last week, and for those who didn't — officials estimate that as much as 15 percent of the county's grapes are still on the vine — the weekend rainfall will mean a quick, muddy march to the finish.

October Rain


"We're getting near the end," said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission. "This is the final blow."

The specter of a mold breakout, especially in the more thin-skinned chardonnay grapes, and the arrival of more wet weather Thursday have growers gearing up for a last push to wrap up what's already been a tough year.

After an unusually cool summer, crews at St. Francis Winery and Vineyards didn't start harvesting the 600 acres until Sept. 27, the latest date in the Sonoma Valley property's history.

"We didn't pick because the fruit wasn't ripe," said St. Francis president Christopher Silva. "Now we're trying to bring in as much as we can as quickly as we can."

At Dutton Ranch near Graton, picking crews will focus exclusively on the remaining 400 tons of chardonnay grapes. A smaller number of syrah grapes will likely stay on the vine through the coming storm.

"They can handle the rain," said owner Joe Dutton. "They won't rot like chardonnay."

Yet soggy vineyards will likely complicate matters, requiring a switch to lighter equipment that doesn't bog down in saturated soils, but which makes the harvest go slower, growers said.

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