As you are aware, the 2022 wine grape harvest in Texas is coming to a close mostly within the next month. Wineries are now busy processing fruit. Here are some salient and personal comments from winery owners and winemakers organized by Matt McGinnis at Big Thirst Marketing that many of you know well. Please follow along to get the inside story on this year’s very interesting growing and harvest season in the Texas Hill Country and Texas High Plains.
Fall Creek Vineyards, one of the oldest and most storied wineries in Texas, has just had another promising growing season. Director of winemaking, Sergio Cuadra, shares his harvest report us below:
The 2022 growing season got off to a slow start. Bud break in the vineyards was later than usual because cold temperatures that lasted into mid-March. That kept the plants from moving to bud break until April, which is unusual in Texas and similar to timing for the West Coast vineyards. However, the grapes matured very quickly this year because the temperature degree days (55F and higher) were considerably higher due to the hot April weather. Cuadra says, ”The summer and the growing season as a whole were warmer than usual. In fact, every month starting with budbreak in April has been warmer than every month in previous years since 2014.” He also indicated that the 2022 harvest was one of the earliest harvests of recent history. In the Texas Hill Country, harvest started in Mid-July and was mostly complete by the first week of August. That is about two weeks ahead of typical years.
He also says, ”The vineyard loads were slightly below average, since in the Hill Country, they are still recovering from last year’s freeze. So, we have slightly smaller crops, but nice fruit [small berries with concentrated juice]. My take from the reds is that they will have well-developed tannins, and perhaps more structure than previous years. Our extraction strategy has been adjusted to manage the greater tannins. We’re reducing skin contact and doing gentle pump overs to keep the silky texture. The grapes look fantastic this year. Overall really good quality fruit. The red grapes already show a promising vintage. In particular, Tempranillo is looking fantastic. Its quality is above average.
Kerrville Hills Winery, located just north of the town of Kerrville. Winery owner and winemaker, John Rivenburgh, is upbeat about this year’s harvest.
Rivenburgh says, ”We work closely with high quality farmers throughout the entire year to assist with vineyard management and growing decisions. Because of this tight collaboration, our fruit is phenomenal.” Despite seeing lower yields in some vineyards around Texas, Rivenburgh feels that his 2022 harvest has produced enough tonnage to fulfill all their winery incubator member’s fruit needs, as well as their own. Rivenburgh continued, ”This season, we have harvested 57 tons, with 35 tons coming from vineyards in the Hill Country, and 22 tons from our growers in the Texas High Plains. We have brought in 15 different varieties, from 10 vineyards in the Hill Country, and three vineyards in the High Plains.”
Ron Yates Wines, located in Johnson City, Texas. Owner, Ron Yates, says this year will be a Vintage to Rival 2017, which was one of the best in the Texas wine industry.
Yates says, ”Each growing season presents its own unique challenges in the vineyard. 2022 is no exception. This year we experienced later than usual bud break because of an extended cold season (some people call it winter), a gusty, windy spring that affected berry set, and a searingly hot summer all wrapped up in a drawn-out dry spell. All of that made for a shortened growing season for our grapevines both in the Texas Hill Country and in the High Plains.”
Yates tried to sum everything going on this year in terms of, what does that mean for the 2022 vintage?
- The strong winds in Spring blew away a lot of grape flowers, so many of the vineyards in the state have smaller crops.
- We are actually harvesting a bit later than years prior in the Hill Country and High Planes.
- The high heat and lack of rain have pushed the sugar levels higher in the grapes, but proper irrigation has allowed grapes to fully ripen before they get too sweet and lose their acidity.
Yates believes, despite smaller crops, he is seeing amazing quality from several of his vineyards. His Estate-grown Tempranillo, in his words is “insanely incredible”. The Mourvèdre from Sandy Road Vineyard is going to make fantastic wine, and their Merlot and Cabernet from Friesen Vineyards (Texas High Plains) will be “a show-stopper” again this year.
In closing Yates days, ”The best-managed vineyards in Texas will have a smaller than usual crop, but with stellar quality. We think this will be one of the best vintages in recent history and may be even better than the wines made in 2017.”
Texas Heritage Winery, located in Fredericksburg, Texas, provided a Harvest Report from co-founder, Susan Johnson.
Johnson says, ”Mother Nature is working overtime in Texas Vineyards! Our excessive heat and total lack of rainfall has resulted in higher Brix (natural sugar level) numbers than normal for this time of the summer in central Texas vineyards. With bud-break in March being a full two to three weeks late this year, growers expected that harvest would be pushed back by an equal number of weeks. Not so!!”
At Texas Heritage estate vineyard, their Viognier…..always the first grape of the season to be harvested….achieved a Brix level of 22 by early July, and they began hand-harvesting this grape on July 12 early in the morning to avoid as much heat as possible. The red grape varieties, normally harvested in August, were ready much sooner than typical years. They finished with harvest in the Texas Hill Country and are 95% done and expect to receive all fruit by mid-August. Johnson says, ”We are expecting some Cabernet Sauvignon to be harvested from the High Plains early next week. We are full into pressing/racking/barreling red wines and working at it daily.”
The extreme weather this year led to lower quantities, but very good quality. The vineyard yields from the Hill Country is about 20-30% less than previous years, and Texas Heritage is receiving about 50% less fruit per acre from growers on the High Plains. But, the quality of the fruit is excellent this year. The quality of the wine made from these grapes is yet unknown, but we believe it will be more intense because of the high heat and concentrated growth season.
Wedding Oak Winery, located in San Saba, Texas. Here is the harvest report from winemaker, Seth Urbanek.
Urbanek says, ”We are almost finished with our 2022 wine grape harvest, and just like last year and the year before, we have unique challenges and opportunities. The intense heat this summer means that Harvest is happening fast and furiously. The upside is that hopefully we’ll have all of the fruit processed before our son is due in mid-October. That’s right, our second child will be a harvest baby.”
The one constant in the Texas wine industry is that we are slaves to the weather. We survived another weird weather winter, followed by a blustery spring, and then plunged straight into an extreme drought accompanied by intense heat. Fortunately, V. vinifera is very adaptive and the grapevines still thrived.”
Urbanek also indicated that the wine grape crops are smaller this year with some varietals and vineyard locations fairing slightly better than others. Yield is down primarily because strong Spring winds blew the flowers off of the grapevines. Those self-pollinating flowers are really delicate and susceptible to adverse weather (particularly high winds). While we have healthy vines and canopy, we have less fruit.
Urbanek’s report also identified that the growing season started later than usual because winter came on really late. It didn’t get cold until February and stayed cold into March. The grapevines came out of dormancy much later, so we thought we would have a later harvest. However, that isn’t the case as the searing heat greatly accelerated their lifecycle. Urbanek says, “Harvest is earlier this year than I’ve ever seen — at least a week to 10 days early. After that late bud break, the grapes have matured rapidly with sugar levels picking up fast. The prematurely elevated sugar levels mean the grapes are ripening before the phenolic compounds are fully mature, as this greatly influences the tannins in the wine. Phenolics contribute to the color and mouthfeel of the wine and our watering strategy is really important in all of the vineyards we manage to ensure the levels we want. Proper irrigation of our vines slows the sugar ripening, allowing longer hang-time for more developed phenolic ripeness.
One significant advantage to the fast ripening and low rainfall this year is that most winemakers are seeing better acid retention and less potassium across grape varietals. That ensures our wines will have the brightness that we love.
Urbanek closed by saying, ”We have harvested beautiful Tempranillo from Mirasol Vineyard, and later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, Roussanne, Sangiovese and Tannat from Hye Top Vineyards, both in the Hill Country. I always love High Top Vineyards’ fruit. We are getting a great mix of fruit from the High Plains with gorgeous Dolcetto, and Cinsault that we will use in our incredibly popular Castanet Rosé. We have harvested Muscat from Philips Vineyard and Diamanté Doble Vineyard and have started on the red grapes from the High Plains this week.
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There you have it… with just a few weeks left in Harvest 2022, a comprehensive view from multiple winemakers on what to expect from Hill Country and High Plains vineyards and the wines that will result.
Thanks for Matt McGinnis at Big Thirst Marketing for rounding up all this information for publication. He has helped to get it together quickly and we are helping to get it published online and distributed pronto to our readership of educated Texas wine consumers. Cheers, y’all!