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Brief break in storm allows harvest to resume

  • A vineyard crew with Dutton Ranch Corp., traverse carefully over a muddy hilside as they continue to pick chardonnay wine grapes in Graton, Tuesday Oct. 4, 2011. The crew started at 7am and will pick until the storm arrives later Tuesday night. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2011

As the clouds parted briefly Tuesday for a break in the rain, vineyard managers across Sonoma County scrambled to get precious grapes off the vine, racing the clock again before another storm arrived in the evening.

The wet weather hitting the North Coast this week has grape growers concerned they could lose even more of a crop already expected to be 10 percent smaller than normal.

On just about everybody's mind was botrytis, or "bunch rot," a mold that shrivels the grapes and concentrates their flavors. Thinner-skinned grapes like chardonnay, pinot noir and zinfandel are more susceptible to the rot, which is more likely to take hold if a grape's skin splits. And with rain seeping into the soil and trickling up the vine's roots, grapes are getting plumper by the day.

2011: Grape Harvest Begins

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Chardonnay, Sonoma County's largest grape crop at more than 16,000 acres, could be among the hardest hit if the rainy weather continues, in part because the grapes have taken longer to ripen. Especially in cooler regions, there's still a lot hanging on the vines.

The latest storm swooped south from the Gulf of Alaska into California on its way to northern Baja.

It arrived Tuesday night in the North Bay, where it was expected to drop up to 2 inches of rain in the hills and more than an inch in the valleys. To the east, the storm was expected to give the Sierra its first taste of winter, with a foot of snow predicted in the higher elevations.

"All the major Sierra passes will have snow," said Steve Anderson, meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

A few lingering showers could continue through Thursday morning, followed by dry skies in the afternoon.

"It'll be a sunny, dry, warm weekend," said Anderson. "Not in the 80s, we're done with that for a bit. Mid to upper 70s," he said.

Summer ended just two weeks ago, but the North Coast has already been hit by two winter-like storms in just three days. The first arrived Monday morning, dropped more than an inch of rain in several areas and moved out early Tuesday.


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