Work crews shortly around 6 a.m. Wednesday began picking pinot noir grapes along Napa Valley's Silverado Trail, starting the harvest season for the North Coast wine industry.

Approximately 40 laborers moved along rows of vines at the Game Farm vineyard between Yountville and Oakville, picking grapes that will be transferred within hours over to Mumm Napa to be made into sparkling wine.

"It's a nice little soft start," said Ben Vyborny, vineyard manager for Vyborny Vineyard management, which owns the vineyard. "As sparkling `wine comes first, it gives us a chance for our crews to get situated before a lot of labor gets taken up."

The early morning activity is believed to be the first harvest in wine country, the annual grape-picking season for the wine industry that serves as the major economic driver for the local economy and affects almost every facet of life around the region.

Winemakers will log 14-hour days as they are glued to the weather patterns and constantly test, feel and taste the grapes remaining on the wine. Vineyard managers will juggle with another tight labor market, which has already forced some to offer year-round work to keep the best laborers.


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Growers are predicting a crop that will come up to two weeks earlier -- if current weather patterns hold -- than usual and will be smaller than last year's record yield, though average compared to previous years. In 2013, Napa County's grape harvest exceeded 174,000 tons with a value of $656 million, while Sonoma County had a record-breaking crop of 271,000 tons with a value totaling $605 million.

Winemakers are expecting another high-quality crop as a result of good weather. Earlier this year, vineyards had little frost that would hinder bud breaks, and a few spring downpours provided needed moisture for the soil. Temperatures this summer have not been too extreme, typically ranging from 80 to 95 degrees.

"It's been textbook. You couldn't ask for better weather," said Steven Urberg, the winemaker for Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards in the Carneros wine region of Sonoma Valley.