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Morning Grape Harvest at Brennan Vineyards (from Brennan Vineyards)

It’s A Fine Wine Harvest in Texas This Year – Could be the Biggest!

Early in the year, I kept getting inquiries from friends and associates in the wine business asking about the impact of the rainy spring weather in the Texas hill country. I’d just say, “So far, what I’m hearing is good”, but really not knowing what the long-term results were going to be when harvest time came around.

Then, at the end of May, in just a few weeks, many Texas vineyards (particularly those in central Texas) where inundated with a foot or two of rain in multiple doses that came fast, hard and furious. There were even groups of wine tourists talking shelter during tornado warnings in subterranean cellars of wineries along Route 290 near Fredericksburg.

The net result of all this was, it was hard for some vineyards to keep up with their spraying and the development of significant fungal disease pressure. However, according to a recent (and optimistic) Texas Fine Wine news release, “disciplined vineyard management practices aided canopy development and kept the vineyards across the state healthy and productive.”

From personal discussions, it appears that some Texas vineyards were hurt, and hurt badly, but the net result across the state is that the 2015 is turning out to be a very good year for grape production.

“We are beyond thrilled to see a quality harvest of Viognier and Nero d’Avola, which we have been without in 2013 and 2014,” said Pat Brennan, owner of Brennan Vineyards (Comanche, TX).  “Overall, the fruit is looking beautiful and 2015 looks to be a very promising vintage.” From the recent social media photo-blasts by Brennan Vineyards Rebecca Connelly and Todd Webster, Pat Brennan’s winemaker, the bins are filling up with ripe, luscious grapes and harvesting is going at a breakneck pace.

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Morning harvest at Brennan Vineyards (photo from Brennan Vineyards)

Duchman Family Winery (Driftwood, TX) winemaker Dave Reilly is particularly pleased with the return of quality Sangiovese grapes in 2015 to the winery’s line-up of primarily Italian wines. Sangiovese, an early budding red grape, was damaged in previous year’s late Spring freezes. He said, “The 2015 Sangiovese crop in both the High Plains and Hill Country looks solid.” Other Texas Fine Wine partners at Bending Branch Winery (Comfort, TX) and Pedernales Cellars (Stonewall, TX) were similarly optimistic.

In a personal conversation, John Rivenburgh at Bending Branch Winery indicated having some difficulties with fungus due to the rains particularly, where due to the frequent rains, it was not possible to keep up with spraying. But, he cited new sources of grapes in the Hill Country along with both new and established relationships with growers on the Texas high plains near Lubbock for good things in 2015.

The high plains growers provide hill country wineries diversification in their Texas grape supply since they are generally higher in elevation and have a drier climate than the hill country vineyards. This concept of vineyard diversification is similar to what hopefully you are all doing in your retirement plans; reduce risk by not putting all your eggs in one basket.

Earlier this season, I read one of the most disheartening posts after an early season hail storm struck Pedernales Vineyard’s Kuhlken Estate Vineyard in the Texas hill country. Winemaker David Kuhlken said, “But in the morning after the second straight year of hail wiping out most of our crop at the estate vineyard, I need to just be honest and say, this sucks!! Not eloquent, but there you go.”

After reading David’s post, my heart sunk to a low point I’d not experienced since being on the Texas high plains in the Spring of 2009. That was when a devastating late freeze rolled through the regions vineyards.

Showing the fortitude typical of Texas winegrowers who are in this game for the long haul, Kuhlken was thankfully not ready to bail on this year’s harvest. It was grand to see posts from Pedernales Cellars and Kuhlken himself when this year’s harvest started (see below).

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Winemaker David Kuhlken inspects 2015 harvest (from Pedernales Cellars)

Recently, Kuhlken said, “With good vineyard management through the wet spring, our estate has managed to carry a promising crop to near harvest despite the very early season hail.  To the west, our High Plains growing partners have had an excellent season thus far with substantial summer rains also giving way to a warmer late summer and dry conditions with continued cool to moderate evenings,” says David Kuhlken, Pedernales Cellars winemaker. It was also good to see the smile on David’s face as the grapes started rolling into his winery this year and riding their way up to the destemmer/crusher.

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Harvesting at Pedernales Cellars (photo from Pedernales Cellars)

Recent reports from Texas high plains vineyard consultant Bobby Cox (back at the helm of the newly acquired Pheasant Ridge Winery) confirm Kuhlken’s comments and indicate a whopping good year for grapes in his area. He said, “There are going to be a lot of high plains grapes harvested this year. It’s just great to have this much fruit to work with again. In recent years, we’ve been so limited by late Spring freezes and drought.”

I asked Cox, “Will all of this season’s high plains grapes find a home (at a winery)? He thought a moment and said, “This could be our biggest state harvest. I sure hope so.”

It appears that the Bonarrigo family at Messina Hof Winery is also planning on a big harvest this year. Recent social media posts showed the installation of new tanks, which will increase their capacity to make wine by around 40,000 gallons.

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New tanks being installed at Messina Hof Winery (photo from Messina Hof Winery)

It was also encouraging to see, harvest starting up at Bingham Family Vineyards (Meadow, TX). Again, posts showed the crush in progress and the loading of a huge tanker truck of stabilized and refrigerated juice going to Texas wineries.

Texas is a big state and, for wineries that partner with growers around the state and winegrowers that invest in good (and proactive) vineyard management techniques and modern technology, good things are happening. The future is bright. These are reasons why winemakers are smiling today as they watch grapes come into their winery. This year’s harvest and crush is well underway, and it looks like it might be the biggest yet.

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Tanker Truck at Bingham Family Winery getting ready to roll out to their partner wineries (photo from Bingham Family Vineyards)
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Love to taste, talk and tweet about Texas wines and where they are in the global scheme for wines. After all that's the only way they will reach the full potential.