Napa Sparkling Wine Harvest Begins, Having Successfully Weathered Frost, Hail and Drought

Winemaker Pauline Lhote Says Water Conservation and Fire Safety Were ‘Top of Mind All Season’ and Praises 2022 for ‘High Quality, Lower Yield’

Note: Winemaking team featured in image above.


Sparkling wine maker Chandon California officially and ceremoniously announced the start of its sparkling wine harvest today, with Head Winemaker Pauline Lhote calling one of the first picks of Napa’s 2022 season. Grapes for California’s sparkling wines are often harvested earlier than those of still wines, and Chandon began harvesting grapes in the cool hours around midnight, bringing in almost 30 tons of Chardonnay. While Chandon often harvests Chardonnay from its Yountville estate vineyard first, this season’s unusual weather patterns meant slower ripening in several vineyards and a slightly delayed first pick from years past. Gathering together with her all-female winemaking team to begin harvest, Pauline joked, “If you put aside frost, hail and drought, the 2022 growing season was lovely!”


In spite of these weather challenges, Winemaker Pauline Lhote and her team are whole-heartedly excited about the high quality of the 2022 harvest, noting that they are seeing cooler than average temperatures after veraison (beginning of ripening), helping to slow the process and preserve the bright acidity and fresh fruit characters that Chandon sparkling wines are known for. “We are seeing beautiful bright acidity this year, which is great for sparkling wines,” said Pauline. “I’m excited about the exceptional fruit starting to come in, and this mild weather around harvest is ideal for the development of beautifully balanced aromas and flavors.”


Considering the impact of drought conditions and an unexpected summer frost on this year’s crop, Pauline is also optimistic about a slightly lower grape yield this harvest. “Every year is different in the vineyards, and just like our colleagues at Chandon’s six wineries around the globe, we know that delicious sparkling wine is not just a matter of growing conditions and harvest, but also a matter of experience and expertise during assemblage,” noted Pauline. “While the crop size is smaller in some vineyards this year, Chandon is extremely fortunate to be able to farm for quality, not quantity. What we lost in quantity in 2022 we’ll make up for with sparkling wines of exceptional acidity and delicious, high quality.”


Meticulous water management using a more precise, automated approach to irrigation was also employed this year, with Chandon irrigating over 90% of its vineyards with recycled water to compensate for low reservoir levels. Working closely with Napa Firewise, Ember Defense and Cal Fire, Chandon also took extra measures to ensure its lands and property were fire-ready in 2022, adding new fire break lines, additional clearings and state-of-the-art wildfire equipment (FireBozz sprinklers). According to Pauline, “As part of the Napa and Sonoma wine community, we continue to be incredibly aware of changing climate conditions in California, and kept water conservation and fire safety top of mind all season.”


As one of the first sparkling wineries in the U.S. – and the first French-owned sparkling wine house in Napa – Chandon continues to embrace innovation and change as it prepares to celebrate its 50th harvest next year. In addition to investing in new solar panels at the winery and throughout its Carneros vineyards, Chandon embarked on an ambitious two-year project to replant with drought tolerant rootstocks across its three estate vineyards, including Carneros, Yountville and Mount Veeder. Pauline also began the creation of a new 50th anniversary cuvée to be released as a winery exclusive in March 2023. The key to almost 50 successful years as a sparkling wine pioneer in Napa, according to Pauline, “Learn from the past and look towards the future.”