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Late harvest for grapes this year
Calvin Ramsey, left, and Travis Alfonso peek out at the sunset Thursday from high atop the bleachers at Gus Schmiedt Field in the aftermath of the storm. Warmer weather with fewer clouds expected through at least next Thursday. - photo by HIME ROMERO

When the rains fell down earlier this week, out came the big blowers in Don Gallagher’s grape fields.

With grape harvest taking place later this year due to last spring’s rainfall which affected the bloom period, there’s still plenty of harvesting to be done.

“I have, maybe, 10 percent of my crop done,” the Manteca farmer who has maintained his small family grape-growing operation since the early 1960s said Wednesday when the week’s most serious rainfall saturated the ground.

His concern about more precipitation possibly wiping out his grape harvest this year could turn to rejoicing today and for the next few days. According to the National Weather Service, you can leave home without your umbrella handy today with highs predicted to be in the mid-70s. Mostly sunny skies and high temperatures in the high 70s are also expected next week, according to the weather service.

Still, the veteran grape farmer was cautiously optimistic.

“You never know who to believe with these weather forecasts,” said Gallagher whose livelihood is derived from his 100-acre grape fields in and around Manteca.

Even as weather forecasters were announcing that Wednesday’s weather will bring only showers and that the ensuing days will offer clear and sunny skies, the lifelong farmer chose to retain a healthy dose of paranoia. He pointed out that the Tuesday night’s rainfall brought three-quarters of an inch with something close to that expected on Wednesday. With that in mind, “we’ll keep our fingers crossed,” was all he could say.

After the previous day’s somewhat heavy rainfall, Gallagher said they will continue harvesting the grapes “probably in two weeks, if the dry weather holds.”

Continued rains would have been a “disaster” for his crop this year, he said.

“It will be our living for a year,” said Gallagher who had finished harvesting on Tuesday only the grapes that are machine-harvested which account for only a very small fraction of his total crop.

When it started to rain Tuesday morning, he had the giant fan blowers out in the fields in an effort to keep the delicate fruit dry.

“All we can do is keep the water blowing the water out with big fans,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

Grapes are really thin-skinned so they can get rotten easily if they get wet, he explained.

The other reason they have to wait about two weeks after the rains before they continue the harvest has to do with the grapes “coming back to sugar.” When the weather drops to a certain number of degrees, or goes the other way around and temperatures become very hot, the sugar production in the grapes shuts down, Gallagher said.

“That’s true with a lot of crops,” he said.

It has been a “very unusual year” for the grapes, Gallagher added. “We had a real cool spring and a lot of rain, and then we had a real cool summer so they (the grapes) didn’t get ripe that much.”

That was true with other grape growers through the region, according to an article in which quoted some growers in the Napa Valley.

The article quoted Trefethen Family Vineyards Director of Viticulture & Winemaking Jon Ruel as saying, “Early in the season it was very wet and very cool, cooler than usual. That really slowed down the development of the grapes and that is why we were in a few weeks later, two to three weeks later than average.”

Gallagher grows five different grapes which go to different wineries. He grows symphony, cabernet sauvignon, ruby cabernet, orange muscat and muscat hamburg, some of which go to the Robert Mondavi and Woodbridge in Lodi, and other wineries in Madera.