2008 Grape Camp Report: Day 2

2008 Grape Camp Report: Day 2 – Advanced Grower Sessions

The turnout of new growers on Day 1 was matched by the attendance at the Day 2 advanced growers sessions. The best news was that many who attended the first session for entry-level growers came back for more. One of the more seasoned growers said to me, “If these new growers came back after seeing Jim Kamas’ ‘gallery of horrors’ session yesterday on diseases and pests, then you know they are serious”.

The issues discussed today were directed at vineyards that were already in production with an aim to give growers information and expanded knowledge so that they can send Texas’ wineries the best grapes possible.

One important issue is that Texas is a big state and has wineries spaced out from north Texas to the Hill Country and even all the way down to Galveston. Many of these wineries purchase grapes from west Texas and high plains growers. 

State enologist, Mike Sipowicz talked about transportation and grape quality. Many techniques are being used to minimize deterioration, including dry ice and sulfite treatment. But, the most important step has been found to be chilling of the grapes prior to transport. Another approach is to establish crush facilities near high volume vineyards as is the case in the Texas High Plains area or to use shared (co-op) winery facilities. These approaches yield the best of conditions for the making of the highest quality wine possible.

One of the more interesting aspects of today’s meetings was the informal networking that took place between new and potential new growers and the experienced growers and consultants that have been in the business in Texas for up to 25 years.  Mike McHenry of Cherokee Valley Vineyards (San Saba County, Texas) typifies the experienced Texas growers. As he says, “I willingly give the new growers the benefit of my experience so that they do not have to repeat my mistakes, and you know, I have made many.”

I talked to Erik Reyes (Good Vibe Vineyards) and Bill Burgess who is contemplating a vineyard near Mike McHenry. When I asked Bill what had given him the urge to start a vineyard, he said, “I had been watching what Mike was doing with grapes on his property and it seemed like it had good potential on my extra acreage, as well”.

Mike retorted by saying, “I actually gave Bill a good reason why not to start a vineyard. One day, he saw me doubled over in my vineyard. I gave him a real scare. But, luckily I had just pushed myself a little too hard and felt a bit overwhelmed at the moment he saw me”.

Lisa Morano, Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Houston, gave a lecture on soils. Her intent was that the more growers know about their soil, the better the quality of grapes they can grow. After her presentation she had a long line of people wanting to talk to her about their soil issues. Chris Rainey (Casa de Christobal Vineyard) even brought bags of his soil to show her.

Perhaps the grower that has been the most impressive with his recent success has been Pat Brennan (Brennan Vineyards) in Comanche, Texas. He first established his operation as a vineyard in 2002 that has now grown to 22 acres and produces Viognier, Semillon, Malbec and Syrah. Brennan Vineyards became especially known for their Viognier that was made into a single vineyard designated wine by Becker Vineyards.

This initial success peaked Pat’s interest enough to start his own winery operation in 2005. Most recently, the Brennan Vineyards 2006 Viognier was awarded a Texas Champion Double Gold at the 2008 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition. www.brennanvineyards.com

Pat said, “The winery has significantly increased my investment and time commitment along with our requirements for grapes. In addition to our own production, we now purchase Texas High Plains grapes and process them in cooperation with McPherson Cellars right in downtown Lubbock. With this arrangement, we are able to harvest the grapes and have them processed quickly in the McPherson winery rather than have to send them by truck all the way down to Comanche.”

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  1. This was a great meeting and a applaud TWGGA for organizing it. I agree with Russ’ comments that the sharing of information between experienced growers and us newbies was more than I expected.

    I will start small with less than an acre in the Hill Country, but plan to expand once I get enough experience to feel confident to go forward. If I can survive this first step, I hope to part of the exciting new growth in the Texas wine industry.

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