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.