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Napa Valley begins one of the earliest harvests in recent memory

Workers make their way up and down the vineyard, picking Pinot Noir grapes that will become Mumm sparkling wine.

Workers make their way up and down the vineyard, picking Pinot Noir grapes that will become Mumm sparkling wine.

(Randy Johnson/Napa Valley Vintners)

The harvest is on in the Napa Valley. And it’s one of the earliest in recent memory. How early? About a week ahead of last year, when picking started on July 30. The year before, it began on Aug. 1; and in 2012, when picking didn’t begin until mid-August, according to Patsy McGaughy of the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) trade association.

The earliest to harvest are always the sparkling wine producers — and that holds true for this year, too. Typically, McGaughy says, Mumm is the first to pick in the Napa Valley. They started July 22. That’s the earliest they’ve ever picked — the next closest date was almost 20 years ago, July 23, 1997.

Pauline Lhote, winemaker for sparkling wine at Domaine Chandon, says the estate started picking Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Yountville last Thursday. They’ll continue to harvest there and will start their Carneros vineyard today and should finish in Napa Valley in three weeks.

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“This harvest is a week earlier than last year, which was already very early,” she says. “The grapes have a bright acidity and good flavors -- so far, it’s looking very good.” The quantity is low, though. “We’re thinking now about 20 or 25% lower than usual.”

At sparkling wine specialist Schramsberg Vineyards, vintner Hugh Davies reports picking started yesterday morning, with some Pinot Noir out of Richburg Vineyard in the Napa side of the Carneros district.

“Pinot Noir ripens before Chardonnay, so it tends to be the grape we pick first every year,” says Davies. “This is our 51st vintage at Schramsberg. I’ve not seen them all — nobody has. But the last year we picked this early was 2004 and before that late July in 1997, and those worked out to be pretty good years.”

Generally, he says, there’s a five-week window from the start of harvest, and this was a year when picking began at the very beginning of that window. He expects they’ll be picking grapes for the next eight weeks.

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Aromatic white grapes should start coming in the next week to 10 days and winegrowers should be deep in the harvest by mid-August. That’s about the timeline that Jay Hemingway of Green & Red Vineyard in the Chiles Valley district foresees.

He realized the harvest had started when he saw the boxes stacked up at Mumm on the Silverado Trail. “We’re about two weeks out for the Sauvignon Blanc. Typically, we’re harvesting at the first of September, but right now we’re looking at I think mid-August to start picking.”

Napa Valley Vintners makes it easy to follow the harvest at their website, where they’ll be posting photos and updates, along with harvest recipes and wine pairing suggestions for late summer and fall. Their site also has links to winery events during harvest and information for planning a trip to the Napa Valley.

We’ll update our harvest reports as the grapes start coming in.

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