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Grape harvest gets going early in Napa

  • Vineyard workers Felix Guzman, left, and Armando Mesa dump pinot noir grapes into a bin at Game Farm Vineyard in Napa on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. (BETH SCHLANKER/ PD)

As morning light broke over Napa's Silverado Trail on Thursday, vineyard workers began the early harvest of pinot noir grapes for sparkling wine.

The crew of 46 men quickly harvested about 15 tons, filling bins heading for Mumm Napa, in what's believed to be the first North Coast harvest of the 2013 season.

The harvest began at least one week earlier than usual, said Ben Vyborny, vineyard manager for Vyborny Vineyard Management. “The weather's been good this year, not real hot and not too cold,” he said. “That's good for complexity and maturity and for making good sugars.”

Napa Grape Harvest

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In Sonoma County, wineries and grape growers typically begin harvesting grapes for sparkling wine in mid-August. Grapes for still wine are generally harvested around Labor Day or later. Warm weather in late June sped sugar growth in regions like Dry Creek Valley, while the cool air in recent weeks slowed ripening in the Russian River Valley. Growers say the crop may be a bit larger than average, which is about 200,000 tons in Sonoma County.

The haul last year topped 266,000 tons of grapes, which were worth an estimated $581 million. The North Coast crop was worth an estimated $1.4 billion last fall.

“We're just excited to get going,” said Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers. “The days have warmed up, the nights have been cool, and we've maintained fog in the morning, so that combination has really pushed veraison along,” referring to the onset of ripening. “We have ideal growing conditions right now.”

The plump grapes picked in Oakville on Thursday likely will end up in Mumm's brut rosé, said winemaker Ludovic Der-vin. “It's been actually a really good growing season...Spring was really mild,” Dervin said. “We had pretty good set, we had a really nice crop. I don't know if it's going to be as big as last year, but it looks promising.”

VIDEO: Grape harvest gets going early in Napa

In Carneros, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards plans to begin its harvest for sparkling wine next week, about 10 to 12 days earlier than usual, winemaker Steven Urberg said. That's putting pressure on winery staff this week to bottle about 40,000 gallons of the 2012 vintage before this year's grapes start to arrive, he said.

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