Early winegrape harvest ‘great quality potential’
The North Coast winegrape harvest got an early start this year, as Mumm Napa, one of the first pickers of each season, started bringing in its first grapes July 22.
Crews for sparkling wine producer Mumm Napa started to harvest grapes at dawn from the 4-acre Game Farm Vineyard in the Oakville growing district on the east side of Napa Valley. It was a day earlier than the vintner’s earliest start, July 23 in 1997.
Grapes for a number of sparkling wines typically are harvested weeks earlier than those in the same area for still wines, because lower sugar levels are desired. Bottlers of bubbly in Sonoma County said they think they’ll to start taking in fruit the last week of July.
Mumm Napa’s start this year is more than a week earlier than that of last year, which was two days earlier than in 2013 and nearly three weeks earlier than the vintner’s average.
“At this point in time, we are seeing another year with great quality potential in Napa Valley vineyards,” said Mumm Napa winemaker Ludovic Dervin, in a statement. “Because of the long flowering period this spring, there is fair amount of maturity variability from vineyard to vineyard, block to block, vine to vine, and even cluster to cluster on the same vine. Winemakers and vineyard experts will be working hand in hand over the next few months to create balanced flavors for another successful Napa Valley harvest season.”
Grapes for a number of sparkling wines - typically, pinot noir and chardonnay - often are harvested weeks earlier than those in the same area for still wines, because lower sugar levels are desired.
It’s too early to predict the length of this year’s harvest, as that will be dictated by weather through August, according to Napa Valley Vintners (twitter.com/#napaharvest). Picking of Napa Valley’s dominant and later-ripening winegrape variety, cabernet sauvignon, is anticipated to start in several weeks, the trade group said Wednesday.
Winemakers in Napa Valley are expecting grape yields, usually measured in tons per acre, to be lower than in the past three big harvests but on par with the 10-year average, the association said.
Weather patterns this season contributed to one of the earliest harvests in recent memory of Napa Valley Vintners’ 500-plus members. The growing season has seen alternating between warm and cool temperatures, resulting in an early bud break followed by a long, relatively cool flowering and fruit “set” period and culminating in what looks to be one of the earliest harvests in recent memory. Cool weather in May, coupled with a summer of limited heat spikes, has also helped Napa Valley vintners keep water use to minimal and highly targeted amounts in the fourth year of California’s drought, the group said.
“The 2015 Napa Valley cabernet vintage has great potential,” said Steve Leveque, director of winemaking for Hall Napa Valley, which grows or sources cabernet sauvignon from 13 of the Napa Valley’s 16 viticultural areas. “A dry and warm winter led to an early start to this year’s growing season and yields will be down significantly due to uneven flowering and set. The season has provided lower vigor conditions with small berries on small clusters, all of which bodes well for creating dense, concentrated cabernet sauvignon. I am hopeful that we will have our fourth great consecutive vintage.”
Paul Ahvenainen, winemaker for Korbel in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, said his team will be in the vineyards July 24 with a likelihood of beginning harvest July 29–31. The Guerneville-based maker of methode champenoise–style sparkling wines plans to crush 12,000–13,500 tons of grapes at the main winery this year. Less than half of that comes from Korbel’s own vineyards, with the rest coming from vines elsewhere in Sonoma County, certified-organic grapes from Mendocino County plus grapes and juice trucked in from the Lodi-Woodbridge region.
“The crop is a little lighter than last year for a lot of varieties,” he said. “There was some shatter, so there are looser clusters. There is smaller berry size, so that means there will probably be better flavor.”
Healdsburg-based sparkling wine custom processor Rack & Riddle expects to see its first 5,000 tons of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes from Russian River, Mendocino and Napa counties the first week of August. Besides those two clients’ fruit, others aren’t planning to deliver grapes from Mendocino south to Paso Robles there until later in August, according to Penny Gadd-Coster, executive director of winemaking. Many client vineyards in those areas haven’t yet gone through veraison - when grape berries change color and enter the home stretch of ripening.
“People are saying they are a week ahead of average for when they are picking,” she said.
Based on what she has seen and clients are reporting, yields are expected to be not as big, because grape berries and clusters are small but quality is generally good. Much of the client pinot noir crop looks to be smaller than previous big years, as is the cabernet sauvignon, Gadd-Coster said.
Mildew in the vineyards is an ever-present problem from year to year, but a combination of temperature and humidity from storms in the eastern Pacific Ocean have made powdery mildew a big problem in certain North Coast regions this year, she said. For example, there have been reports of significant mildew in Dry Creek Valley, yet fewer issues in Los Carneros. Vineyard crews have been out spraying fungicidal agents to keep it at bay.
“Hopefully, it can be taken care of in the field before it comes in,” Gadd-Coster said. “If it does come in, additional sorting may be needed - sulfur at the press or destemmer - try to knock down any ‘bad’ yeast or bacteria there. We may need more than what you might use in an average year. It could be a tricky year for natural ferments, if fruit has been compromised.”