CALISTOGA — The first harvests have begun across Napa Valley with the inaugural grapes of the 2017 vintage being plucked this week.
As is customary, Napa’s sparkling wine producers are the first to harvest grapes for their forthcoming wines, beginning this week with Domaine Chandon, Mumm Napa, Domaine Carneros and Schramsberg Vineyards.
Taking to the press pad at Schramsberg on Tuesday morning, the winery’s team began the steps that will one day culminate in its 2017 sparkling wines.
Welcoming the crowd gathered under the balmy morning sun, winery president Hugh Davies said of the harvest, “We’re anticipating relatively heavy crop. I say that because the last couple of years have been a little bit light, right? We know that we’ll have more crop than we’ve had these last couple years.”
The Calistoga winery, whose fruit came that morning from the Richburg Vineyard in the southerly Carneros region, joined the ranks of Napa’s other sparkling wine houses now kicking off the harvest.
According to the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Domaine Chandon plucked 8 acres of pinot noir from its estate vineyard in Yountville at 4:30 a.m. on Monday, while Mumm Napa, also in the early hours of Monday, was pulling pinot noir grapes from Green Island Vineyards in Carneros.
Patrick Riggs, Domaine Chandon viticulturist and Napa Valley Grapegrower member, told the group on Monday, “Everything coming in today looks great – color-wise, cluster size, and overall uniformity.”
“It was record-breaking weather,” Mumm Napa winemaker Ludovich Dervin said of the growing season, now in its final throes.
Mumm Napa held its annual harvest celebration at the Rutherford winery on Monday, in what Dervin called “the passing of the grapes from the workers in the vineyards to the wine makers.”
On Tuesday, Davies also cited the year’s excess rainfall as having been a boon for the vineyards and the vintage.
“Clean fruit, hardly any signs of mildew or Botrytis, very little signs of sunburn. So we’re pretty excited actually. Seventeen is looking abundant and is also looking quite positive.”
Schramsberg’s director of winemaking, Sean Thompson, told the crowd, “I wanted this to be a little later, but it seems like it wants to start now.”
“It’s started!” Davies cut in, drawing laughs from the crowd.
Schramsberg’s 2013 Quarencia rose was poured for those gathered at the press pad, a wine concocted from a mix of Carneros chardonnay and pinot noir.
Of the pinot noir grapes picked that morning, some may well become the 2017 iteration of the same wine, Davies said.
“So it’s interesting to think that the 20th vintage of the Quarencia is now officially in process because the first of the juice is headed on into the winery.”
Transitioning between Spanish and English, Davies told the crowd, “We’re thankful for those people who came before us. Raise a glass to Dad, and to our parents. And also to the team of people here who have worked so hard for all these years … We absolutely couldn’t have the success that we’ve had over now 52 years without that backbone of effort. So thank you.”
As is also customary, Davies and five members of the winery team each took to “sabering” a bottle of Schramsberg wine, the act of slicing along the bottle’s seam with a saber and rendering the top of the glass neck from the bottle, cork in tow, ideally in a clean cut.
Once sabered and flowing, the wines were poured over the bins of grapes waiting to be crushed.
While Tuesday’s haul consisted only of Clone 32 and Clone 23 pinot noir grapes, Davies said the winery would begin harvesting chardonnay from Carneros starting Wednesday morning.
“That could be it for this week,” he said, though the team continues to take samples from its source vineyards to determine when to harvest those as well. The process will accelerate over the coming weeks, as more grapes ripen to the point of harvest, and the end of the 2017 growing season falls over the entire valley.
St. Helena Star reporter Tom Stockwell contributed to this report.