by John Ramos

NAPA (KPIX 5) — Every year, the people who make Mumm Napa sparkling wines celebrate the first day of the harvest crush with a dignified ceremony. While the cork-popping may be traditional, the timing of Wednesday’s party is anything but.

“It’s the earliest harvest we’ve had in history for Mumm Napa, July 22nd,” winemaker Ludovic Dervin said.

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Normally, the Napa Valley crush begins in mid-August. But Dervin said this unprecedented early start is due to the one thing that affects all aspects of the wine business, the weather.

“This year the entire growing season shifted,” Dervin said. “We had a pretty warm month in February and the vines started to push early.”

Dervin said the drought has had some effect, but what’s more important is when the rains fall.

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The early ripening is producing high-quality fruit, but in lower quantities and Mumm Napa will be scrambling to find enough grapes for its growing brand.

“Starting early, the biggest challenge is labor and getting everyone employed and up to speed in time. You start planning on one date and suddenly you’re 2 or 3 weeks early,” said Mumm Napa managing director Simon Towns.

Hiring experienced pickers will be important because this year’s grapes are said to be highly variable, which means the fruit is maturing unevenly, sometimes even in the same cluster. It’s all part of the uncertainty that makes winemaking as much art as science.

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“Until the last day of harvest you don’t know what can come. The weather can be too hot, it can start raining before harvest is finished,” Ludovic said. “So many things can happen…that’s what makes our job so exciting.”