Wine Harvest Begins in North Coast

Mumm Napa brings in Pinot Noir for sparkling wines

by Kate Lavin
A member of the picking crew dumps one of the first lugs of Pinot Noir into a bin at Game Farm Vineyard in Yountville. The crew picked 12.1 tons, which will be used for Mumm Napa sparkling wine.
Rutherford, Calif.—A picking crew assembled before dawn this morning to harvest the first wine grapes of the season at Game Farm Vineyard in the Napa Valley. More than 12 tons of Pinot Noir were picked and transported to Mumm Napa, a 275,000-case producer of sparkling and still wines located just a few miles north of the 3.9-acre vineyard on the Silverado Trail.

Ludovic Dervin, winemaker at Mumm Napa, said an early bud break was responsible for moving up the harvest schedule, which would normally not start for another week. (The same vineyard was harvested July 30 in 2014 and Aug. 1 in 2013.) The Pinot Noir harvested today measured between 19° and 20° Brix.

And while Dervin sees great potential in the 2015 vintage, he added, “Unlike the last three vintages, this year’s crop is more of a ‘diamond in the rough,’ requiring more carving out and polishing in the vineyards to express full potential.”

A warm February prompted vines to wake up from dormancy in spite of fairly dry soils, said Dervin, citing low winter rainfalls that arrived on a concentrated schedule.

mumm harvest
A harvest crew picks Pinot Noir at Game Farm Vineyard in Yountville, Calif., this morning.

    Winemaker Steve Urberg from 155,000-case winery Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards called Wines & Vines on July 24 with a harvest update from Sonoma, Calif. Urberg said he believes the winery will start picking Pinot Noir late next week at its home ranch.

    After a long bloom period created uneven ripening among the vines, Urberg ordered crews to drop green clusters in an effort to narrow the range of maturity.

    “What we’re seeing in our sampling is as the sugars are coming up, we’re seeing really high acids. So we’re waiting for those acids to come down and come into balance,” he said. “It looks like it’s going to be a nice, high-acid year.”

    The winery typically starts harvest around Aug. 19, and in 2014 it kicked off Aug. 4. “We’re going to be four or five days earlier than last year, and that still puts us three weeks earlier than average,” he said.

    The early harvest is not a problem for wine quality, but it does throw a wrench in the bottling schedule. “We didn’t get to finish our tirage bottling,” Urberg said, adding that in a bumper crop year like 2013 such a situation would have posed a real problem for tank space. As it stands, however, 2015 yields are looking light, with small clusters and shot berries lightening the expected tonnage.

    Once harvest for sparkling wine grapes gets under way at Gloria Ferrer, it is usually about two or three weeks before all the grapes are brought in. After that, harvest for still wines begins. Urberg says the winery is looking to produce 85% sparkling wines from the 2015 crop and 15% still wines.
“Unlike the previous vintages of 2013 and 2014, the soils were dry when the vines started their growing season, leading to a more difficult start, with inconsistent shoot growth elongation,” Dervin told Wines & Vines. “Bloom was long and led to more variability in crop size and maturation levels, requiring some green cluster thinning.”

Elsewhere on the North Coast
Lori Narlock of Domaine Chandon said the sparkling wine producer, which owns 1,150 acres in Carneros, Mt. Veeder, Yountville and the Russian River Valley, plans to harvest its first grapes in Yountville this Friday.

Sean Thompson, who was recently promoted to senior winemaker for Schramsberg Vineyard Co., overseeing Schramsberg sparkling wines and red wines for J Davies Vineyards, said he plans to harvest about 2 acres of Pinot Noir for sparkling from Richburg Vineyard in the Carneros AVA on Monday or Tuesday.  

Sugar levels at the site are currently hovering between 18.5° and 19° Brix, and Thompson expects they’ll reach 19.5° Brix by early next week.

“It’s going to be the earliest time we’ve ever harvested,” Thompson said. “Talking to Hugh (Davies, owner of the winery bonded in 1965), he thinks there might have been some years that came close in the ‘70s or ‘80s; but this is the earliest that he can remember.”

Richburg Vineyard’s hilltop site has good drainage, allowing clusters there to ripen earlier than any of Schramsberg’s other vineyard sources.

“That vineyard tends to be a lot earlier,” Thompson said. “We did some sampling, but there’s probably going to be a delay of at least a week” between the pick at Richburg and harvest at any of the other vineyard sites.

In the meantime, the team at Schramsberg has ordered one last irrigation before harvest, and the next five days should give the handful of green berries—“Christmas lights,” as Thompson calls them—enough time to get color.

Margie Healy, vice president of communications for Korbel Champagne Cellars, located on the Russian River in Guerneville, Calif., said the 1.66 million-case purveyor of sparkling wines would harvest the first grapes from its Delta Ranch property late next week or early during the week of Aug. 3.

Reporting from the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County, Bob Gibson, director of vineyard operations at Roederer Estate, told Wines & Vines, "We’re just starting to see color here and there—a little bit more in the deep end, toward the Navarro area. But we’re still looking around Aug. 3 before we start picking the estate fruit—probably Pinot first and then the Chardonnay."

Further afield

Kevin Corliss, vice president of vineyards for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, told Wines & Vines earlier this week, “We are just a few days early to set a date. The grapes are not fully soft yet. We should be able to predict a firm date by the last part of July. If I were going to guess, I'd say somewhere around Aug. 15.”

Meanwhile Allen Holstein, wine grower for Argyle Winery in Dundee, Ore., said the warm 2015 growing season has been reminiscent of 1987, when harvest kicked off over Labor Day weekend. Holstein noticed the first signs of véraison this past Monday, setting expectations for the company’s 500 vineyard acres in the Eola-Amity Hills and Dundee Hills viticultural areas.

“1992 was warmer than this year, and we actually had a few sparkling picks in late August,” he told Wines & Vines, “but I would be surprised if we are that early this year.”

Messina Hof Winery in the Texas Hill Country plans to start harvest later this week, and Flat Creek Estate Winery & Vineyard near Marble Falls, Texas, will begin harvesting Pinot Grigio this weekend.

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