At first light on Tuesday, workers began picking the first grapes of harvest 2019, 17 tons of Pinot Noir from Rogers vineyard in Yountville for Mumm Napa Valley.
Sparkling winemakers kick off the annual harvest in the valley, followed by white wine grapes, which will be mostly harvested by the end of August. The Cabernet Sauvignon harvest will likely begin in mid-September.
For Tami Lotz, it was her 18th harvest at Mumm, and her first as head winemaker at the sparkling wine house. She began her wine career in 2002 as an intern at Mumm, working in the same Rogers vineyards, she said.
Another sparkling wine producer, Hugh Davies, president of Schramsberg Vineyards in Calistoga, said, “We are inching toward harvest. It may be as early as Thursday.” Davies added that this year’s crop is “about 20 percent lighter than last year” and that timing is “about the same. I’m optimistic,” Davies said.
On the crushpad
“Happy new year,” Lotz told some 100 Mumm employees who gathered on the winery crushpad, wearing T-shirts printed with “Harvest” and “Cosecha” — Spanish for “harvest.” On the back, in Spanish and English, the shirts celebrated what Lotz called the three values of the winery: “tradition, family, and pride.”
“I always think of this as the beginning of a new year,” she said.
Lotz, who said she is excited about quality, said she’ll be out in the vineyards most mornings during the next “sleep-deprived” six weeks. “The Memorial Day rain of 2019 is something we’ll all remember,” she said, but while it affected the cluster size, “the flavors are great and the acidity is bright, which is just what we want.”
It will be two years at the earliest before the wines from these grapes will be released to the public, Lotz said, and it could be as long as four years for their reserve wines and six for the winery’s super-premium blend DVX label.
“We’ve been working with Rogers vineyard for more than 20 years,” she said. “And their grapes have gone into all of our blends.”
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A Napa native, Lotz is the daughter of immigrants who came to Napa from Germany after World War II. Her grandparents owned Lotz Carpet in Napa. Lotz studied at UC Davis, and then, as many winemakers do, traveled the world working in Chile, Australia and Germany, as she learned her craft. Especially meaningful, she said, was returning to visit her grandparents’ village in Germany and learning about the German wine-making traditions.
Returning to Napa, she went to work at Mumm with the long-time Mumm winemaker, Ludovic Dervin.
Dervin, who attended the traditional beginning of harvest celebration, is going on to work on special projects with extensive travel, Lotz said.
Grapes are ripening
Elsewhere in the valley, winemakers are walking the vineyards as well, checking on grapes.
“We have had favorable ripening conditions in Napa Valley over the past 30 days,” said Paul Goldberg, president of both Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Bettinelli Vineyards. “The very mild, early-season temperatures have led to an incredible growing season.”
According to the Grapegrowers, heavy winter and spring rains delayed pruning and bud break by a few weeks in some parts of the valley “but that hasn’t had any effect on the overall crop.
“The rain in April created a bit of shatter in Chardonnay clusters during bloom but didn’t significantly reduce crop size. Growers compare it to the same amount of reduction that occurs normally during crop thinning and they call the April rains ‘nature’s way of thinning.’”
The May rain, followed by a heat spike in June, sparked canopy growth, the Grapegrowers said. Since then, the weather has been moderate, and veraison — the time in the ripening cycle when grapes change color from green to gold and red — has been “beautiful and even” according to Goldberg. “Veraison is a sign that harvest is just around the corner.”
“With the late-season rains, vine growth took off, so crews were still leafing and hedging the vineyards when — boom — it was time for harvest,” added Kendall Hoxsey-Onysko, a Napa Valley Grapegrowers board member.