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Rain dampens harvest, drenches Plein Air

ANNE ZIEMIENSKI (right) avoids the downpour while her husband Dennis Ziemienski shows off some of his work while trying to keep an art-enthusiast dry on Saturday at Plein Air’s Plaza art sale. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

ANNE ZIEMIENSKI (right) avoids the downpour while her husband Dennis Ziemienski shows off some of his work while trying to keep an art-enthusiast dry on Saturday at Plein Air’s Plaza art sale. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

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Growers had mixed reactions to Saturday’s sheets of rain, which dropped 0.35-inches, according to weather reports from Gen. Vallejo’s Home. Those with pinot and chardonnay left to pick felt the pinch of the weather; but because the harvest has been unseasonably ahead of schedule, most aren’t sweating the wet weather.

“We’re not too concerned about it,” said David Cook of Cook Vineyard Management, which oversees 475-acres of Sonoma Valley wine grapes. “It happens this time of year.”

Meanwhile, the annual Plein Air art exhibit on the Plaza went on despite the downpour, and Plein Air board member Anne Ziemienski said “an amazing number of people showed up,” despite the weather. Exhibit boards, on which paintings were hung, were shielded by umbrellas and plastic sheets as artists and art lovers stood in the rain. By mid-afternoon the skies had cleared, the sun came out and Ziemienski declared the day a surprising success.

Cook, meanwhile, said he has cleared most of his vineyards of chardonnay and pinot noir, which have already been picked and processed for the season. These delicate, thin-skinned grape varietals are most susceptible to botrytis, better known as bunch rot. Growers always hope for wind after rain to dry the leafy canopies out and decrease the risk of rot, but Saturday went from wet to hot and humid in a hurry.

“There was no wind after Saturday’s rains,” said Michael Coats, spokesman for B.R. Cohn Winery. “I imagine people (with pinot and chardonnay) are picking like crazy this week.”

Cook pointed out that the harvest is two to three weeks ahead of schedule this year, which means many wineries should already be done with the more vulnerable varietals. He had some concerns about his zinfandel grapes surviving the showers unscathed, but said cabernet could take the pelting with little repercussion.

“It happens and it’s part of Mother Nature,” said Cook. “Growers know how to deal with a little rain.”

While vintners took the downpour in strides, Sonoma Valley’s reservoirs could benefit from the 0.35-inches of rain. As of Sept. 14, Lake Sonoma was at 79.5 percent of capacity while Lake Mendocino measured in at just 37.4 percent. Saturday was also the last day of summer, when the water supplies tend to be at their lowest levels, meaning the lakes should recover their reservoirs during the coming rainy months.

The driving rains didn’t cause any major traffic incidents, but the California Highway Patrol said they saw an uptick in activity that day. “I know they certainly had a lot of calls, as you would expect,” said Lisa Paulson, spokeswoman for the Napa CHP.