North Coast grape harvest kicks off in Napa Valley

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YOUNTVILLE - The 2019 North Coast grape harvest kicked off Tuesday under a picturesque backdrop of hot air balloons rising into the sky and the sun peaking over the Vaca Range, signaling another start of the season for the main driver for the region’s economy.

A work crew of about 20 started before sunrise at the Rodgers Vineyard right off Highway 29. They were scheduled to pick about 17 tons of pinot noir grapes, fruit that will go into sparkling wine produced by Mumm Napa that will be on store shelves in a few years.

“It’s like New Year’s Day,” said Mumm Napa winemaker Tami Lotz.

The start of harvest was two days earlier than in 2018 with a crop yield that is expected to be near normal of the historical average, though the whims of Mother Nature can easily change things as the picks that will last through the first of November.

Last year’s crop reached a record $2 billion in value --- before it was turned into wine --- with an all-time high 588,864 tons of grapes in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties.

The big challenge for local farmers were late May showers that came during peak bloom. A few varieties encountered shatter -- when the vine’s fragile flowers do not pollinate and don’t develop into grapes — that will lead to a smaller yield for those types. But those rains did not affect the overall wine grape crop as much as originally feared.

The late rains did force the crews at Rodgers vineyard to spray sulfur to prevent mildew that could ruin the grapes, said Anna Hickey, president of the family-owned vineyard company in its fifth generation.

“We were trying to make sure we didn’t miss windows. There are very crucial windows in the very early stage of development that you don’t really want to miss. And we knew we needed to be on that,” Hickey said.

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