One of the earliest harvests on record has started in California with winemakers predicting an excellent vintage.

Kendall-Jackson took in its first bins of Sauvignon Blanc at the end of July – the result of less-than-normal winter rainfall and a mild spring on the north coast. After one or two heat spikes in May and June, grape maturation benefitted from a cool July and – so far – a cooler than normal August.

Kendall-Jackson winemaker Randy Ullom said it was early to make a definite pronouncement, but ‘2004 may go down as one of the best vintages on record.’

‘We expect to be working throughout September, but the way things have shaped up, harvest at K-J should be completed by October 15,’ he added.

Meanwhile sparkling wine producers Mumm Napa Valley, Schramsberg and Domaine Chandon started bringing in the Pinot Noir on July 26 – the second earliest harvest on record.

‘A typical harvest at Mumm would mean starting up around August 10,’ Rob McNeill of Mumm owners Allied Domecq said.

Mumm winemaker Ludovic Dervin told the Napa Valley Register the growing season had been ‘slow and steady’ after a frost-free spring.

He said the crop appears ‘very healthy. Flavours are intense and there’s good acidity. Cool nights, late morning fog and sunny afternoons should mean an exceptional vintage.’

Yields are likely to be around 10% lower than average – adding to winemakers’ optimism for good concentration of flavour and good acids.

While fingers are crossed for August weather that is as near-perfect as the rest of the spring and summer, winemakers say early ripening is the best guarantor of quality, mitigating the danger of heavy rains at harvest.

But, the San Francisco Chronicle warns, anything can happen before the last Cabernet Sauvignon is harvested in the autumn.

‘Hail storms, heavy rains or searing heat are climatic perils that could be lurking around the corner. Growers remember all too clearly last year’s frigid spring, summer heat spikes and mold.’

Written by Adam Lechmere, and agencies