Rain spurs rush by growers to harvest their wine grapes

Central Coast wine-grape growers are frantically scrambling to get fruit off the vines as rain hits the region this week.“The chardonnay is rapidly rotting,” said Fin du Fresne, winemaker for Chamisal Vineyards in Edna Valley.

“There was already rot from June’s rains. This is just going to make the disease pressure explode. It’s been a high-pressure year,” du Fresne said. “Needless to say, we’ll be picking chardonnay today and tomorrow.”

After heavy rain Tuesday night and early Wednesday, the rest of the day gave a bit of a respite in between showers, but there is still more rain to come.

According to the National Weather Service, there is a 30 percent chance of showers today with partly sunny skies and a high near 63.

The unpredictable weather at harvest time is getting to be pretty predictable for grape growers.

“This is four years in a row now. So, we seem to be starting some kind of a trend,” said Steve Carter, vineyard manager for J. Lohr Vineyards in Paso Robles.

Most grape growers have just begun to harvest their 2011 crops, and rain was something they were hoping to avoid.But somehow they knew the chances of escaping the wet weather altogether weren’t good, and that was before they ever saw a weather report.

“This is the third year in a row we had to pick chardonnay earlier than we liked,” du Fresne said. “We were going to start picking this next week, so it’s not the end of the world.

“Right now, we have a crop loss of about 10 percent because of rot caused by the rain. If we were to leave it until next week, we would have an estimated 80 percent loss, and if we left it longer, we would have 100 percent rot,” du Fresne added. “We just can’t leave it with this moisture at all.”

In the North County, the weather is also a concern for wine-grape growers but for different reasons.

“Harvest usually lasts to the first of November,” Carter said. “We’ve only picked about 10 to 15 percent. So, we have a lot to go.”

Carter grows mainly cabernet grapes, which can handle the wet weather better than many other varietals. The main concern in the vineyard at J. Lohr is the cold weather that could follow the rain.

“We’re worried about what will happen Friday and Saturday. Friday morning is the main concern,” Carter said.

According to the National Weather Service, the weekend is expected to be dry with moderate temperatures.

There is, however, a silver lining to the ominous gray clouds that have been hanging over San Luis Obispo County vineyards.

“We’ve dealt with rain picks for the last two years,” du Fresne said. “We know what we’re up against. We are watching and we’ve adjusted our vineyard practices to allow us to pick a week to two weeks earlier.”