The fickle Texas weather can make or break a grape harvest in the state’s Hill Country and High Plains regions where the fruit is grown to make wine. This year? Winemakers are more excited than usual about their prospects.
Consumers who love Texas wine should also be excited. Chances are, we’ll have some high-quality bottles of the 2017 vintage to look forward to starting next year.
There are multiple reasons for the promising harvest, but one of them, without question, is the unusually warm wintertime temperatures at the start of this year — they helped lead to “probably the best (and certainly the biggest) grape harvest that the Texas wine industry has ever seen,” Julie Kuhlken, co-founder of the Hill Country’s Pedernales Cellars, said. “And not even Hurricane Harvey could ruin it.”
The mild winter weather meant that the grapes in the Hill Country started sprouting extra early this year. As a result, they were also ready to come off the vines a couple of weeks ahead of schedule, in mid-July versus late July, and had all been harvested by the time Hurricane Harvey roared in from the Texas Gulf Coast.
“Harvey would’ve definitely affected the harvest, but we had already taken all the grapes off the vine,” Kuhlken said.
She also noted that Harvey had a side benefit for the grape growers in the Texas High Plains who produce a bulk of the state’s fruit. The hurricane pushed dry air into the High Plains during a time when a late summer storm would’ve been expected — protecting those grapes, too. (High Plains fruit generally stays on the vine a little longer than the ones farther south.)
As a result of the great quality and quantity of Texas grapes, Pedernales Cellars is anticipating “excellent” bottles of the winery’s staple offerings, like tempranillo, as well as promising new single-varietal vintages like tannat and possibly even malbec, Kuhlken said.
Other Texas wineries in the Hill Country have also been receiving top-notch Texas grapes, a mix of old and new varietals for them.
The owner and winemaker of Bending Branch Winery, Dr. Robert W. Young, has long been working with tannat, which many in the industry say is one of the best grapes to grow in Texas. This year, his winery was able to receive the hardy grape from five different growers throughout the state, something that has never been possible before.
“Another first (is that) we will harvest sagrantino — the grape with tannin levels similar to tannat — from the Texas High Plains. This variety from Umbria, Italy, is another rising star for Texas,” he said. “Another grape that has the potential to be outstanding in Texas is Souzão... Not only is this Portuguese variety a teinturier grape with deep color and complex flavors, but also it is one of the latest bud-breaking grape varieties we’ve seen in Texas, giving added protection from spring frosts.”
At Brennan Vineyards, owner Pat Brennan is looking forward to the red wines his vines produce, including syrah, tempranillo and nero d’avola. He’s also experimenting with new-to-him grapes: Brennan Vineyards is bringing in some carmenere, a red varietal more popular in Chile than its origin country of France, from the High Plains.
Start looking for bottles of white wine made from 2017 grapes as early as January next year; the red wines, of course, will need up to a year-and-a-half until they’re ready. That’s time Texas winemakers are willing to wait for — after all, they weren’t even sure this year would be a good one for their wine.
“It was all set up to be a disastrous season because of the really early bud break,” Kuhlken said. “In the wine business, there are a bunch of things that could go wrong, and none of them really did this year. There was no late spring freeze, and then we had a nice dry spell leading up to harvest.”