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At first light on Tuesday, workers began bringing the first grapes of harvest 2019 — 17 tons of Pinot Noir from Rodgers Vineyards in Yountville for Mumm Napa Valley.

Sparkling winemakers kick off the 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.

“We are inching toward harvest,” said Hugh Davies, president of Schramsberg Vineyards in Calistoga, who also produce sparkling wine. “It may be as early as Thursday.”

Davies said, “A wet winter led to late bud break, and our harvest is starting just a little later than normal.”

He estimated that 2019 crop levels” are a little light of last year, maybe 20 percent lighter. It should be an average-sized crop.

“In general, we’re excited by what we see, and fully expect an extraordinary vintage,” he said.

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 Rodgers Vineyards, she said.

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 at Mumm, is going on to work on special projects with extensive travel, Lotz said.

“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 Rodgers Vineyards for more than 20 years,” she said. “And their grapes have gone into all of our blends.”

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.

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Features Editor

Sasha Paulsen has been features editor at the Napa Valley Register since 1999. A graduate of Napa High School, she studied English at UC Berkeley and St. Mary's College and earned a Masters in Journalism from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.