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Wine Country Grape Harvest Rushed To Beat Looming Storm

SANTA ROSA (KCBS) - Some grape growers and wine makers have been out picking around the clock, racing to protect this year's crop from an unusually cold Alaskan storm forecast to hit the Bay Area next week.

"Everybody's waking up to the fact that it is really going to rain," said John Clendenen, whose vineyard supplies to 40 worried wineries.

They picked chardonnay, merlot and zinfandel all night long.

KCBS' Holly Quan Reports:

The storm is due to arrive Tuesday and Wednesday at the height of the grape crush in Sonoma County, a period when growers can usually count on hot fall weather.

Zinfandel's thinner skin and tight bunches make it more susceptible to rain and rot if it doesn't warm up after the storm.

"Fungal diseases take off after you have rain, and plus the berries of the grapes can swell and split. That's our concern," Clendenen said.

Clendenen said he's got nearly a third of his crop picked, and he expects to pull in another 20 percent before the rain starts to fall.

"That leaves quite a bit out," he said, much of it not ripe enough to come off the vine.

"So it's a moment of compromise," he said.

Michael Dashe, whose boutique Dashe Cellars concentrates on Sonoma grapes, said the coming storm is the talk of wine country. Fortunately he got a head start on the crush.

"It started in a big way about a week ago. Every tank in the place is full. We're picking hand over fist. We've picked every day for the past 7 days," he said, bringing in about 20 tons a day.

He has every vessel that can ferment packed with grapes, and expects to be done picking before next week.

The mad dash in Sonoma County may not be playing out in Napa County though, where Dashe said the cabernet is probably not ripe enough to come off the vine.

"Different areas of the state ripen at different times," he said, and cabernet "can withstand a day or two of rain just fine."

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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