The 2011 winegrape harvest finally is getting under way in Napa County, as sparkling wine producers start crushing a crop is later and appears to be lighter than normal and even last year’s weather-wearied vintage.
Mumm Napa on Monday began crushing what little fruit comes outside the county — pinot gris and some chardonnay from Solano County — and plans to receive the first 80 tons of Napa Valley pinot noir grapes this coming Monday, according to winemaker Ludovic Dervin.
“That’s a pretty big start,” he said. Big but late for the Rutherford winery, about five days later than last year’s already-late crush date.
Mr. Dervin is projecting Chandon’s crop this year to be 4,200 tons, which would be light for the winery. Because of having Napa in the brand name, the winery is limited legally and marketing-wise in making up for seasonal shortfalls.
“I’d be happy to reach 85 percent of that,” Mr. Dervin said. “It would be a tough time for us not to meet our targets. The brand is healthy and we need to meet sales expectations. The sparkling wine category is doing very well right now.”
The smaller grape berry sizes seen this year could reduce that crush projection further because of fewer gallons of juice — the press fraction — from each ton of grapes, he said.
If the crop is as light as expected, Mumm Napa may have to more closely manage its stocks on hand this year, look to blend more from the 2012 crop and adjust distribution and bottle prices to stay within the winery’s current production target of 250,000 cases a year, Mr. Dervin said.
Domaine Chandon in Yountville crushed its first grapes today, according to a spokeswoman.
Schramsberg Vineyards in Calistoga plans to receive 15 tons of Napa Carneros pinot noir from Richburg Vineyard on Monday, two days later than last year and 15 days behind the typical start of crush for the winery, according to spokesman Matthew Levy.
“Overall, the vines are looking really good to us,” he said. “They are maturing very well with the help of the consistent weather. The 85 to 90-degree highs throughout July and August have been great for the vines.”
“There was some shatter in the vineyards early on, but the vines have found their own balance and are looking very good,” Mr. Levy said. “This is the best that our estate Petit Verdot has ever looked.”
Domaine Carneros in Napa Carneros is aiming for Wednesday to start picking some of the pinot noir grapes that have reached the desired sugar concentration — 17 degrees Brix, according to winemaker T.J. Evans.
“The chardonnay is quite a bit farther behind at 10 to 12 Brix,” he said. “But the forecast is nice, with temperatures in the upper 80s, which is prime for the metabolic rate of the vines.”
The grapes are being picked about two weeks later than normal for the source vineyards, he said.
“It’s going to be a little bit longer and a little bit lighter, kind of like 2010,” he said. At this point, the winery could crush 975 tons of grapes for the sparkling wine program, compared with the “quite heavy” 1,100 tons last year.
The 2011 North Coast winegrape crop could be more than 10 percent lighter than last year’s, based on the early view of the incoming sparkling wine grapes, according to Brian Clements, senior partner and winegrape broker for Turrentine Brokerage of Novato. Pinot noir and merlot grape yields appear to be 5 percent to 10 percent lighter; cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, 10 percent; and sauvignon blanc, 15 percent.
At the same time, the amount of bulk-wine for sale is relatively low, so one- and multiyear grape contracts are being signed in the major North Coast regions, including in Mendocino and Lake counties, Mr. Clements said.
“We’re getting to the point — not too much this year but certainly next year — when growers and wineries will make money,” he said.
A number of the winemakers said they remain concerned that the 2011 season could mirror the 2010 season too closely, including the quick jump in temperature by 20 to 30 degrees just over a year ago. At that time, vineyard foliage had been removed to allow the maximum amount of sun on the slow-ripening grapes during the otherwise cool summer, which also had dampness that increased the risk of mildew and botrytis. The quick spike and lack of shade damaged significant portions of crops in the hottest areas.
This year, vineyard managers are being careful to open up the vineyard canopy without doing it too much.
Winegrapes dominate Napa County agriculture, accounting for $453.9 million of $461.5 million in agricultural sales last year, according to county figures.
Troublesome weather, including an overall cool temperatures, a scorching heat just before harvest and early rain right in the middle of it, contributed to a 2.9 percent cut in the total Napa County crush, or 4,134 tons. Total winegrape revenue for the nearly 139,000-ton county winegrape crop decreased 8.3 percent, or $41.1 million.
Sonoma County bubbly bottler J Vineyards & Winery started crushing grapes on Monday.
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