Texas Wineries Report Early Harvest

Good growing conditions for grapes result in high yields

by Linda Jones McKee
wine grapes harvest texas chardonnay
Clusters of Chardonnay reach maturity at Arché Winery & Vineyard in northeast Texas.
College Station, Texas—Last winter’s very warm weather, followed by the early arrival of “tornado season” in late March, had many Texas growers wondering what Mother Nature was going to hand them during the wine grape growing season. They needn’t have worried. Dr. Justin Scheiner, assistant professor and extension viticulture specialist in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at Texas A&M University, reported that, overall, the state had good growing conditions and harvest should be from one to three weeks ahead of schedule. “We had an early bud break, no spring frosts and really good conditions. It was a fairly mild summer until the last couple of weeks when the weather got hot.”

According to Scheiner, the very southern-most part of Texas, the Rio Grande region, finished harvest in early June. Vineyards in the Hill Country west of Austin are at the peak of harvest this first week of August, while the High Plains in northern Texas are not too far behind. Harvest in Texas will probably “end by mid- to late September,” Scheiner said.

Sugar levels vary by the variety of grape, Scheiner noted. “Whites are averaging between 21° and 24° Brix, and the reds are between 23° and 26°.” He commented that with the recent heat and dry weather, some grapes will get to 28° or even 30° Brix, and pH levels could also be challenging. “A pH of 3.5 would be perfect, but over 4.0 is not uncommon.”

Fran Pontasch, viticultural program specialist for the Gulf Coast region of Texas, told Wines & Vines that harvest for the region finished in late July. “It was a good year,” she reported. “We had no rain at pollination; the disease pressure was not that bad, and growers got good cluster weights and good quality.” She noted that the biggest problem was that growers had under-estimated the cluster weights and had more tonnage than they expected. Another perennial problem for the small vineyards that are not mechanized is getting enough people to pick the grapes when the weather is so hot.

The growing season in north Texas also started early. Michael Cook, viticulture program specialist for that region, said that bud break there ranged anywhere from five to 20 days earlier than average. He noted, “Rainfall was sporadic for growers in northwest Texas and heavy in northeast Texas. This is the third ‘wet’ year for growers in east Texas. In fact, growers just received an 8-inch rain over the span of 12 hours (Aug. 3). Fortunately, bloom occurred uninterrupted, and the majority of growers are experiencing a large crop of very high quality.”

Cook continued, “In northeast Texas, Blanc du Bois harvest wrapped up last week and Black Spanish harvest is anywhere from a few days to a few weeks out. Some growers have already started harvesting white vinifera varietals in central and western regions of north Texas. In northwest Texas, Tempranillo is already being harvested by some. The vast majority of red vinifera varietals are anywhere from two to four weeks from optimal harvest. Winery reports thus far have confirmed healthy crop loads with excellent wet chemistry parameters and very good aromatic potential.

The harvest in the Texas Hill Country west of Austin also is almost finished with harvest. Rick Naber, owner of Flat Creek Vineyard and Winery in Marble Falls, Texas, confirmed that harvest in the Hill Country will be complete by the end of next week. He reported to Wines & Vines that the region had bud break by March 2, saying: “That’s really early, usually it’s between March 20 and 30. We had a ‘cool warm-up’ through April, after berry set, until early May. The fruit set well and the quality is high.”

Fritz Westover, a viticulture consultant who owns Westover Vineyard Advising (based in Houston), said that only the later grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, have not been picked in the Hill Country. “The chemistries have been excellent, and there’s been little disease.” However, he commented that he has seen more symptoms of Pierce’s disease, probably because of the warm winter.

Westover summed up the harvest by saying, “It’s been one to two weeks early all over Texas; it’s a good year.”

Posted on 08.07.2017 - 20:26:06 PST
Great for the Texas Wineries! It's going to be a wonderful year for Texas Wine! Cheers!