Texas Winegrowers are on the “Eraser’s Edge”

You may recall the book “Razor’s Edge” by W. Somerset Maugham published in 1944. It quotes, “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.” This quote was taken from a verse in the Katha-Upanishad, a Sutra period Vedic Sanskrit text from India.

Right about now, you are likely asking, “What the hell does this all have to do with growing wine grapes in Texas?”  Well, I’ve followed the situation in Texas this year and the fear of crop loss from the late-Spring freeze is running high. It has created a situation akin to the “Razor’s Edge”.

It is important to understand that the last few years were tough with huge losses by Texas winegrowers. In 2009, things were particularly bad as a result of a sequence of events that resulted in wide spread devastation of the Texas grape crop. First, a they had a very warm mid-March period with temperatures across the central and northern part of Texas approaching eighty degrees. This summer-like weather was followed by the cold slap in the face of temperatures in the low twenties and desiccating forty mile per hour winds that occurred in the last week of the month. This produced an unprecedented shortage of Texas grapes requiring importation of grapes from other states to sustain last year’s Texas winemaking.

This is why, in some manner of speaking, growing wine grapes in Texas seems akin to the Razor’s Edge and a manifestation of the religious philosophy of the hard path to salvation.

Most of the Texas winegrowers have thus far dodged the bullet of the late-Spring freeze this year. But, it has been close, very close. To use the title from an email string from growers went around the state this weekend, it was “white knuckles” close.

Reports from early this morning indicated that temperatures on the Texas high plains were in the twenties with most of the state skirting the freezing mark. As one grower emailed, “Dear God, this was close, well under 25 degrees in many vineyards; but after last year, few of them were pruned. All buds on these vineyards are in play and we are still looking at a big crop.”

There are at least two important reasons why these buds are still in play. The first reason is noted above, that most growers in northern Texas have learned not to prune their vine as early as in other wine producing regions. Normally, this takes place in January or February. However, it can stimulate bud break too early making them susceptible to the late-Spring freeze that is all too common here in what is generally acknowledged as a “warm-weather growing region”.

Secondly, the temperatures this winter and through the spring have been consistently cold. It has been like putting nature’s halter on bud break. We have been under the influence of the El Nino that has increased wintertime precipitation and also kept a lid on the temperatures, keeping them consistently cool.

However, it’s now crunch time, a time of hopeful salvation.

If the weather can help us out for about another week, the Texas winegrowers should be off to a banner year and its something that is needed by the whole Texas wine industry.  If not, the growers may have to ERASE most of the Texas grape crop again this year, and some may decide that it is just not worth it. This is why I feel it’s perhaps more fitting to refer to the winegrowers situation in Texas as the “Eraser’s Edge” more than calling it the “Razor’s Edge”.

I witnessed first hand last year’s Spring freeze on the high plains (http://vintagetexas.com/blog/?p=652) and it wasn’t pretty. However, it was a testament to the grit and determination of Texas winegrowers. It did make them seek salvation and pray for Mother Nature to put her eraser back in her pocket for at least another year. Well, it’s another year, the growers are back for another season, and their fate will be told.

Check out: Texas Winegrower’s Lament: http://vintagetexas.com/blog/?p=669

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