It was an early morning today to get up and out on the road to visit three major Texas vineyards around the Lubbock area. The fresh high plains air and a cup of coffee got me started. On the way, a patch of eye-popping yellow sun flowers helped as well.
The first stop was at Neil Newsom’s vineyard. Newsom, who has 20-year’s of grape growing experience on the Texas High Plain, showed us his grape harvester. It is like a tall tractor with a high cab and an underbelly that first shakes the vines and then carries the berries up overhead so they can be stored and transferred to storage bins.
Newsom stressed, “The machine harvesting of grapes has given us significant benefits in terms of quality. The quicker harvesting allows the fruit to get on its way faster and it also has less MOG (Matter other than Grapes) than with hand harvesting. Bobby Cox, grape growing consultant to many of the premium growers added, “With automated harvesting techniques we can hit the optimum time for harvesting by taking the time needed for harvesting from days down to hours”.
The preceding evening at the Llano Estacado winery we had tasted their Viviano premium Cabernet-Sangiovese blend. In the vineyard we had the opportunity to taste Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese grapes right off the vine, what Newsom referred to as “Viviano in the raw”. This fruit was lush and succulent with a rich berry flavors with a strikingly good acidity. This balance of “big fruit” flavors and acidity is the trademark of the high quality Texas High Plains grapes.
Newsom showed us his new building that will house a staging area for a new concept in the Texas High Plains. In the near future, the Newsom’s will harvest and transfer the grapes to this location and then crush the grapes right at their vineyard rather than send the grapes by truck to the distant wineries for crushing. This will allow the “grape must” consisting of the crushed grapes, skins and juice to be cooled and transported by refrigerated tank trucks to wineries around the state. According to Newsom, “Winemakers will retain even more of the lusciousness of the fresh fruit than possible transporting the grapes in bins over what is a 5 to 10 hour truck ride from the high plains to Texas wineries.
Newsom had a sampling of wines made with his Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Malbec and Muscat grapes. These wines represented a literal “who’s who” of Texas’ established and up and coming wineries including: Llano Estacado, Becker, Light Catcher, Texas Hills, San Martino, Sunset and Bar Z. In fact, in a Texas wine competition that I presided over in 2005, four gold medals were given to wineries for wines that designated the fruit was from Newsom Vineyards right on the front label.
High Plains Terroir – Newsom also described the Texas High Plains soils as “red sandy loam on top of caliche limestone, which is typical on the Texas High Plains. It is a perfect, disease resistant soil for grape growing since the red sandy soil has good mineral content and drains rapidly. The underlying caliche allows the roots from the vines to easily penetrate deep underground. It also holds on to the moisture draining through the top soil throughout the year, even when the vine are dormant. This can give the vines a source of water that they can use all year long.” In fact, he showed us a patch of 20 year old Cabernet Sauvignon that was dry farmed (no water used except that from natural precipitation).
Bobby Cox stressed that, “What makes wine grapes a particularly good crop for the Texas High Plains is that it takes much less irrigation water than other mainstay Texas crops like corn, cotton and peanuts. This is particularly important as irrigation water here comes from the subterranean Ogallala Aquifer. This is a fixed resource as it is not recharged like the Edwards Aquifer in the Texas Hill Country. Water is going to become a real issues in the future. Wine grapes are going to be an important part of the agrictultural future of this region.”