Texas Wine Country 2014: Some Dodged the Bullet, Some Not
Most people in Texas would agree that Texas is a hot sunny place most of the time. They would also likely agree with the idea that Texas winegrowing has more in common with similarly sunny places like Spain, south of France and Italy than with the cool clime of Burgundy. However, in my opinion, something that we don’t emphasize enough when talking about Texas as a winegrowing region is the “hard stop” caused by the persistent late spring freezes that limits our native wine industry.
Last night was a good example of one such hard stop. Thankfully, it wasn’t a complete train wreck like Texas wine growers experienced last year, probably the worst string of late spring freezes in the modern records. But, last night’s freeze it still hurt, some more than others.
For winegrowers on the high plains around Lubbock, reported temperatures were well below 32 F. A report came in that the “vast majority of buds are tight” and freeze tolerant. However, temperatures were variant and for some early-budding grape varieties and vineyard in low lying areas, “this one’s going to hurt”.
For winegrowers immediately around the Fredericksburg area, where vine growth has been substantial this spring, the temperatures were more moderate and just skirted with the freezing mark. This caused one local grower to say, “I think we dodged a bullet down here.”
From the early reports, the biggest problem last night appears to be in the vineyards that are in between. At one location, in north Texas but off the high plains, a low of 22 F was reported with sub-freezing temperatures persisting for 6 hours. This could be a season ending direct hit; the “poof” that causes fresh vine growth and tender buds to be freeze-dried right off the vine. The only recourse in this situation is to wait for signs of growth from less productive, secondary buds.
Well, the early reports confirmed that some winegrowers dodged the late spring bullet, but some didn’t. We still have about two to three more weeks of what one wine growers called “pucker time” before they will be able to relax their sphincters and go on with the rest of the season. It is also a reminder that local winemaking starts with grape growing. And, most importantly of all, it is all still farming which is a noble but frustrating occupation that make people realize they are at the mercy of a mother nature and the will of a still greater power.
This is all a reminder that history shows that creation of a new wine region is fraught with challenges and not every year may be a “Vintage Year”. Moreover, no wine growing region is totally similar to any other. Each embodies a unique set of conditions that need to be learned and mastered, but one vintage at a time. Only time, measured in decades or centuries rather than years, will tell what will ultimately result. Options for the future (other than global warming) might be changes in grape variety selection (short of implanting genes from cold water fishes in the grapevines) and vineyard management practices to delay spring growth or freeze protection. What else can be done now or in the future? In Texas, we are all ears.
At times like these, we need to give our thanks and heartfelt appreciation to those of grit and gumption that work the vineyards so that we are able to put Texas wine on our dinner table.