On Friday, August 6, corks flew and wine flowed freely as an army of eager employees gathered on the crushpad of Mumm Napa to welcome the arrival of Pinot Noir from the nearby Gamefarm Vineyard — the first fruit to arrive at the winery and the beginning of the 2012 harvest in Napa Valley.
Winemaker Ludovic Dervin anointed the freshly picked berries with a bottle of 2003 DVX, which he expertly sabered. Wearing brand new rubber boots and t-shirts that paid homage to the legacy of Champagne with famous quotes like Napolean Bonaparte’s “Champagne! In victory one deserves it; in defeat one needs it” (Incidentally, it is on the battlefield where the sabering of Champagne began), the entire team then, less gracefully than their leader, washed the crushpad with bubbles (non-vintage brut this time).
Sparkling wine houses are typically the first to harvest in Napa Valley and elsewhere in northern California, because they are looking for less-ripe fruit with lower sugar and higher acidity than what is desirable for still wine. Dervin says he makes his picking decisions primarily based on how the fruit tastes: “I’m not interested in the skins and the seeds because they don’t go into the wine,” (pinot noir is pressed to make blanc de noirs or “white of blacks”) says Dervin. Instead, he focuses on the balance of fruit flavors and acidity in the pulp of the berries. “This pinot noir tastes of raspberry and strawberry with some darker fruits as well,” describes Dervin.
The Gamefarm Vineyard is almost always the first vineyard to be picked in Napa Valley thanks to rocky soils and its warm, mid-valley location, but Dervin expects harvest to continue for weeks to come: “Harvest is a marathon and the best way to succeed is to pace yourself,” he urged his employees on Friday.
If the year continues as it has, with warm sunny days and cool nights across Napa Valley and Sonoma, we will certainly be toasting to victory and not to defeat come November.