North Coast winegrape harvest begins

[caption id="attachment_95797" align="aligncenter" width="320"] Vineyard workers Felix Guzman, left, and Armando Mesa dump pinot noir grapes into a bin at Game Farm Vineyard for Mumm Napa on Aug. 1, 2013. (credit: Beth Schlanker, The Press Democrat)[/caption]

Crews are set to start fanning out into North Coast vineyards this week to pick the first grapes of the season.[poll id="130"]

Grapes for sparkling wines are picked at lower sugar levels than grapes for table wines, and Mumm Napa typically is one of the first in the region to get started each year. On Monday the sparkling wine house announced plans for picking its first grapes of the season Wednesday in Game Farm Vineyard.

The anticipated start this year is two days earlier than Mumm Napa's start last year on Aug. 1, which was about a week and a half earlier than usual. However, the winery's earliest pick was July 23 in 1997, according to a spokeswoman.

"Late and very welcome spring rains set us up well in this otherwise dry year," said Mumm Napa winemaker Ludovic Dervin in a statement. "Thanks to the long, moderately warm spring, even flowering, good fruit set and few heat spikes, we’re looking forward to bringing in some beautiful fruit and maybe even an above average yield."

Although this past winter was one of the driest on record, Napa County vintners and growers are predicting an abundant, high-quality harvest for the third year in a row, according to trade group Napa Valley Vintners.

In Sonoma County, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards is aiming toward a start of picking early next week, according to a spokeswoman.

"One of the great things about this growing season was that we did not have to irrigate at all between budbreak and bloom," said Mike Crumly, vice president of vineyards. "The vines grew their canopies to full size and then stopped their growth once the canes reached the top wires in most of our blocks. This is -- was -- ideal for a perfect growth cycle."

It could be the winery's earliest harvest since 2004, he added.

In the winery's cellar, crews have been busy wrapping up the last vintage to get ready for the predicted earlier harvest, according to winemaker Steven Urberg.

With long-range forecasts considering a El Niño--fueled wet winter in store, some grape market experts are starting to consider an early start to harvest a good thing, to avoid the dampened crop size in 2011, which had both cool weather and early significant rain.

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