2017 Sparkling Harvest Well Underway

Wine producers begin picking on schedule from California sites in Lodi and the North Coast

by Jane Firstenfeld
wine grapes harvest Domaine Chandon
Domaine Chandon harvested 8 acres of Pinot Noir this morning in Yountville, Calif. Photo: Robb McDonough/Napa Valley Grapegrowers

North Coast, Calif.—It was all hands on deck today for North Coast sparkling wine producers. Starting at 4:30 a.m., Domaine Chandon picked 8 acres of Pinot Noir from its Yountville Estate vineyard, according to Napa Valley Grapegrowers.

Gloria Ferrer, located on the Sonoma side of the Carneros AVA, also reported the onset of harvest today. Mumm Napa also started picking today, harvesting Pinot Noir from Green Island vineyard in American Canyon. Winemaking operations manager Tamra Lotz confirmed that totals out of the press today were 19.6 tons of Pinot Noir measuring 20.0° Brix.

Schramsberg director of winemaking Sean Thompson told Wines & Vines that harvest for the Calistoga, Calif.-based winery will begin Tuesday at the Richburg Vineyard in Napa-Carneros. He predicted a total of some 6 acres during two picks at that property, historically the winery’s first of the season.

Based on the latest sampling there, the Pinot Noir should come in around 19.5° Brix, with a pH of 2.95.  Schramsberg sources grapes from about 115 different vineyard sites, Thompson said. Those in Carneros seem to have ripened faster than in Marin, Sonoma and Anderson Valley (Mendocino County), so subsequent picks will include Chardonnay from the Tognetti Vineyard, Pinot Noir from Thomson Vineyard and other sources around the North Coast.

Aware of the industry’s labor issues, Schramsberg is proactive in scheduling its picks, allowing as much time as possible for crews to be assigned from its vineyard-management company. Thompson would prefer that his grapes remain hand-picked but says he is open to the potential of mechanization.

He expects a higher harvest for Chardonnay, with Pinot Noir yields coming in higher than in 2016 but lower than the long-term average. 

Eileen Crane, founding winemaker and CEO of Napa’s Domaine Carneros, said the winery harvested Pinot Noir today from a site just east of the winery.

Carneros breezes, she said, have effectively kept mildew at bay. Sampling indicated good balance of Brix, acid and pH. Exceptional flavor development means Domaine Carneros will pick with slightly lower Brix than in the past two years.

“We have spent a lot of time figuring out how to get the pickers we need for this year’s harvest. The vineyard we started with today is one of our most difficult, and some pickers left,” she said. Although the winery has researched mechanical harvesting, it remains committed to hand-harvesting as long as is possible.

Gloria Ferrer wine grape harvest Pinot Noir
Steven Urberg, director of winemaking at Gloria Ferrer, inspects a load of Sonoma Carneros Pinot Noir this morning as it arrives for the first crush of 2017. Photo: Tia Butts

On the Sonoma side of the Carneros AVA, Steven Urberg, director of winemaking at Gloria Ferrer, said the recent warm weather pushed some vineyard blocks carrying lighter crops to ripen more quickly than expected, and harvest began this morning, more than a week earlier than expected.

First in were clusters of Pinot Noir; tomorrow a few small blocks are expected to be picked from the 335-acre Carneros estate. By the end of next week, Urberg expects to be in the thick of the sparkling harvest.

As we reported July 31, the inland Lodi region kicked off harvest earlier than the North Coast. Korbel Champagne Cellars in Healdsburg already has started harvesting grapes from some of its many vineyard sources there.

Director of winemaking Paul Ahvenainen said Korbel started its harvest with 200 tons of organic Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir from Lodi on Aug. 2. This week, he expects to reap primarily Chardonnay from Lodi and Clarksburg.

“We started slow at about 100-200 tons per day and will ramp up to 500-700 tons daily by next week,” he said. Lodi and Clarksburg are typically first for Korbel. Although mildew pressure is high this year, most growers are well aware of the issue and have adjusted their mildew control procedures accordingly.

Early indications are that sugar/acid and maturity of the grapes are all in balance, Ahvenainen reported this morning. The next region to start will be Pinot Gris and Chardonnay from Brentwood and Chardonnay in Colusa, followed by estate Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley.

As for labor, Ahvenainen acknowledged that staffing for hand-picking crews will be tight. “One of the advantages of being in the bubble business is that we get harvest done early and have fewer problems with labor, trucking, etc. More mechanization is inevitable.”

Initial grape quality looks good, he said. Crop size is variable but overall, looks to be average or slightly light.



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