Early grape harvest begins in Napa Valley

NAPA, Calif.

"We started as early as July 23 in 1997, July 26 in 2004," Mumm Napa winemaker Ludovic Dervin recalled.

Based on that history, Dervin wasn't completely surprised that harvest has come for the pinot noir grapes, even if it's 10 days earlier than the average.

He made the call about three days ago. He had help from Ashley Jackson, a second generation winemaker who long ago took note of this year's dry winder and warm spring. They accelerated ripening for all grapes in the region.

Making the call is both science and intuitive art.

"I like traipsing around in the dirt," Jackson said.

She also spends plenty of time in the lab, keeping track of acid and sugar levels, anticipating that optimal picking moment for champagne.

"Well every year it's a crap shot, but we are always able to find the quality we are looking for; it depends on what is presented to us," Jackson said.

At Mumm, they always celebrate the season's first grapes. Employees toast. They bless the new grapes and sprinkle them with a previous vintage. Then, back to work.

After all the benedictions, it's a fairly brutal end for those celebrated clusters and just the beginning of at least a two-year fermentation process.

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