2008 Texas Grape Camp Report: Day 1 – New Grower Sessions
The parking lot was packed as was the meeting room at the Fredericksburg Inn that housed the Texas Wine and Grape Growers (TWGGA) Grape Camp. About 200 people attended this year’s new growers sessions. I met people from Texas to California with a desire to grow grapes in Texas. Many had land under cattle, one had just had five wine turbines installed on their land and were looking for further “diversification”, one had experience with 50 acres of pecans, and others just had determination (led by inspiration) to pursue Texas’ newest cash crop – Wine Grapes.
I had learned earlier this year during a trip to the Texas High Plains wineries and vineyards that Texas has a dire need to increase wine grape production. See: http://vintagetexas.com/blog/?p=30
Over the past few years, the burgeoning number of Texas wineries has now exceeded 160 wineries around the state. The new “wine growers” at this meeting hopefully will match their inspiration with perspiration and be up to the task at hand. Texas is an emerging wine producing region and the handbook for growing grapes in Texas is being written as we (virtually) speak.
The rapid growth in Texas wineries has been driven by major changes made by the Texas legislature since 2001. In that year, the Texas Wine Marketing Assistance Program was initiated and receives $500,000 bi-annually from Texas state licensing fees to support marketing of Texas wines. This was followed in 2003 with a constitutional amendment that allowed wineries to be established and sell wine from their tasting rooms anywhere in the state (wet or dry). The biggest and boldest move thus far has been allocation of $2 million annually in Texas state funds for Texas universities and state agencies involved in viticultural research, marketing research and extension services. This latter creation has resulted in regional technical support for grape growers and winemakers that is resulting in better grape varietal selections, and improvements in growing and winemaking techniques for these start-up and existing operations.
Today, I met Dan and Crystal Prince that have land that they are currently using for grazing cattle. Managing this venture has helped Crystal, as she says, “leave the corporate world”. They are hoping that allocation of some of their land to grape production can do the same for Dan.
Paul Geiger and his son Sean are from California. They plan to start growing grapes in Texas. Their plan is for this to be Sean’s operation as he is currently a third semester student at Texas’ Grayson College studying viticulture and winemaking. Sean plans to co-op in the near future at Brennan Vineyards in Texas to get valuable hands-on experience. The father and son team are set to start with two acres of grape cultivation and increase two acres at a time and continue until they can’t handle any more.
The Grape Camp sessions were called to order this morning by Neil Newsom who is President of TWGGA and one of the largest grape growers in the state with his vineyards on the Texas High Plains near Lubbock. The day included many presentations and a sharing of experience on site evaluation, grape varietal selection, water issues, diagnosing vineyard problems and grape sales contracts.
The day finished with a BYOB dinner and presentation of the winners of the TWGGA Non-Commercial Wine Competition. This latter event encourages growers and amateur winemakers to test their winemaking skills and get critical review and feedback.
At the end of the sessions and before the dinner, I met Bobby Cox, a Texas High Plains viticultural consultant, in the parking lot outside the meeting room. He was very excited about a new wine that he wanted me to taste.
Bobby went to his room to retrieve the bottle. When he returned, he showed me a bottle of Texas Hills Rousanne. This is a Rhone-style white wine made with grapes grown on the Texas High Plains. Needless to say, I was very surprised as was he when I told him that I was just at Texas Hills Vineyards winery yesterday and that I also fell in love with the same wine. See: Texas Wine Passport – http://vintagetexas.com/blog/?p=108