Texas Gulf Coast Wine Country – Old Place, New Opportunity

It was cold and damp this morning, but after yesterday’s even wetter and colder tour of Jerry Watson’s vineyard in Cat Springs, the warmth in the Cat Springs Agricultural Society hall was building with the crowd. The weather was familiar to me. It was a winter in wine country that I had previously experienced, not in Texas, but rather in Sonoma, Napa and Russian River wine regions of northern California.

The hall was packed with novice and experienced grape growers with many intrepid people seriously considering getting into grape growing. They assembled for the 18th Annual Gulf Coast Grape Growers Field Day. The crowd grew to a record attendance of over 175 people with Texas AgriLife Viticulture Program Specialist Fritz Westover still getting calls on the cell phone asking if the meeting was still on day and how to get to it.

The Cat Springs agricultural society was founded in the 1830s by German immigrants involved in a wide range of farming operations including grape growing. This was the start of the Texas tradition of agricultural extension service; where to go to get help on soils, crops and, yes – even grapes.

Yesterday’s vineyard tour highlighted the sleeping grape vines nearly ready for pruning. These were vines of two grapes that can truly handle the hot humid Gulf Coast climate and make award winning table and fortified wines: Blanc Du Bois (white wine grape) and Black Spanish (also called Lenoir – red wine grape).

Jerry Watson has made substantial innovation over the years spent hands-on in his vineyard. He has developed growing methods and a special trellising system that spreads out the canes and leaves of the grape vines to fight mildew and rot, and promote even ripening. This trellis system is gaining advocates and users, and has become known to growers across Texas as the “Watson System”.

After the tour we caravanned over to Bob and Jeanne Cottle’s Pleasant Hill Winery in Brenham, Texas for a tour and tastings of Pleasant Hill bottled wines and a few barrel samples. Bob is working on his red blends that incorporate conventional grape varietals like Cabernet and Merlot and also varying additions of locally produced Black Spanish.

The evening was spent at Jerry’s house for a paste dinner, tastings of wines from the Gulf Coast, other sites in Texas, France and Italy. The reception was attended by Jerry, area growers, and some of the AgriLife extension staff in viticulture and enology. The Newsom’s (long time Texas High Plains grape growers) fought the winter weather Texas High Plains growers and made it in time for dinner. As the evening came to an end, my bunk mates (Fritz Westover, grape grower Robert Smith, and Texas state enologist Mike Sipowicz) and I meandered to Jerry’s second floor “bunk house” and bed down for the night. Good night John Boy…..

For more information on Texas wine grape growing, go to: http://Winegrapes.tamu.edu

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