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California Wine Grape Harvest Begins

Napa Valley growers pick fruit for sparkling, rosé wine programs

by Andrew Adams
mumm napa harvest
Winemaker Ludovic Dervin of Mumm Napa celebrates the start of harvest by blessing grapes picked today at Game Farm vineyard.
San Rafael, Calif.—The first reports of the 2013 vintage in Northern California indicate grapes are ripening a bit early, yields will be average to high, and the quality looks good.

As is typical, the Napa Valley harvest began with grapes destined for sparkling wine. Mumm Napa picked about 18.1 tons of grapes from the winery’s Game Farm vineyard between Yountville and Oakville, Calif., this morning.

Steve Matthiasson, owner and winemaker of Matthiasson Family Vineyards, beat the sparkling harvest by a few days, picking 4.5 tons of Syrah for his rosé in the Dunnigan Hills AVA in Yolo County, Calif., on July 29.

Matthiasson said he plans to come through the same vineyard next week to pick Mourvedre, Grenache and Cinsault for the remainder of his rosé, which he is aiming to see at 19.5° Brix in the tank. He said the first lot of Syrah came in at 18.5° Brix after pressing.

Overall, Matthiasson is impressed by the quality of what he’s seen. He said everything is tasting exceptional and is quite balanced. “I think it’s going to be an epic year,” he said.

The challenge this year may be for winemakers to resist the urge to give grapes a bit too much hang time. Matthiasson said the early conditions of 2013 remind him of 1997, a vintage of great promise but one that he felt produced quite a few flabby wines that didn’t reach their potential.

The recent spell of mild weather slowed grape development a bit, but Matthiasson said he’s noticed ripening can occur quite quickly after véraison is completed. Acidity also seems to be dropping more quickly than sugar is accumulating.

June rain of some concern
Bob Iantosca, executive winemaker at Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards on the Sonoma side of the Carneros AVA, said he expects to harvest his first lot of Pinot Noir in the middle or end of next week.

He said the only concern was the 1.25 inches of rain that came through the area in June, but he said crews were able to open up the vines and just had to deal with a bit of mildew. “Other than that it’s been gorgeous,” he said.

Harvest is on track to be about one week ahead of average. “We’re seeing a lot of clusters; cluster counts are quite high, but it seems like they’re not sizing up,” he said, attributing this year’s small berries to last year’s huge crop.

Mumm winemaker Ludovic Dervin said it helped that a heat spike came after the rain. “Each weather event by itself could have been an issue, but the heat actually helped neutralize the rain event and put everything back in balance,” he said.

Overall, Dervin said Napa Valley was on “track for an excellent vintage” and that the current weather conditions are perfect. “We have a very nice balance between the green growth canopy and the fruit load, which should lead to a slow and even ripening season until harvest.”

Laurence Sterling, operations manager for the sparkling and still wine producer Iron Horse Vineyards in Sebastopol, Calif., said they still have weeks to go before they start harvesting Pinot and Chardonnay for the winery’s sparkling program. He said Iron Horse likely wouldn’t be picking before Aug. 20, adding that most of the winery’s estate vines had just started véraison.

The average starting pick date for the past 15 years has been Aug. 27, Sterling said. The earliest start was Aug. 10, 2004 (a very small yield vintage), and the latest was Sept. 1, 2011.

This year, Sterling said everything has gone well so far, and he’s cautiously optimistic. “It’s looking pretty good, (but) it’s still long enough for things to go wrong, so I don’t want to be predicting it’s going to be great.”     

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