2016 Wedding Oak Winery Harvest: A Challenging Year, A Stellar Vintage
2016 Harvest report from Winemaker, Penny S. Adams
Heavy rain, hail, searing arid heat, followed by more sustained heavy rain. That sounds like a recipe for disaster for a farmer. That’s what we faced this year.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: growing grapes in Texas ain’t for the faint of heart. To be able to successfully harvest a high-quality crop takes vigilant vineyard management and a healthy dose of luck.
It is well worth the effort. The best wines start in the vineyard.
Early in the growing season, we experienced dry conditions which persisted from pruning through bud break. Fortunately, frequent heavy rainfall mid-season allowed for larger grape clusters during the cell division stage. In our Hill Country vineyards, particularly at our estate High Valley Vineyard, I saw some of the largest cluster sizes ever in varieties like Roussanne and Mourvèdre. Massive and gorgeous.
The rain was great for larger clusters, but it also had its downside. That frequent rainfall throughout April and May wreaked havoc on our ability to get equipment into vineyards to actively protect each vineyard block. Each grape variety differs in their susceptibility to the various fungal pathogens most frequently seen in the Texas Hill Country, like Black Rot, Downy Mildew, and Powdery Mildew. The period of greatest susceptibility to these diseases falls between bloom and bunch closure, for all leaves, shoots and berries.
Then came the hail. Many vineyards throughout Texas were hammered with hail in late April, reducing crop levels from 10 percent up to 30 percent. The degree of damage is dependent upon the vines age, specific stage of development in the season, along with size and duration of the hail. Young vines, during trunk and cordon development, have little canopy to protect vine tissue and are extremely vulnerable to hail damage. Often growers don’t recognize losses until harvest when they discover reduced yields. Our Mirasol Vineyard in Lampasas County was the hardest hit by hail damage with reduction of up to 10 percent of the crop in both Grenache and Tempranillo grapes. Fortunately, our High Valley Vineyard avoided significant hail damage, with Viognier even yielding higher than expected.
We had a little lull in the excitement mid-season during June and July with dry of conditions throughout the vineyards in the Hill Country. That didn’t last.
Heavy rains returned in August just before harvest. Light rains can create a washing of sugars and ultimately flavor profiles that will impact wine quality. Heavy rainfall events late in the ripening cycle can cause a rapid uptake of water and actually split berries open, causing fungal pathogens including bunch rots to set into clusters.
For the most part these late season rains didn’t create problems with ripening or fruit quality, with the exception late ripening varieties like Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Roussanne, which experienced slightly lower sugars at harvest. For the most part, fruit quality has been high in our Hill Country vineyards. Highlights this year include our beautiful estate grown Viognier, that is happily fermenting away, yielding beautiful soft tropical aromas of guava and mango.
We’ve harvested a beautiful first crop of Sangiovese and Touriga Nacional from the Phillips Vineyard in the High Plains, with intense, deeply-colored fruit and phenomenal lush cherry pie aromas. It will be interesting to compare this vibrant, young Sangiovese from the High Plains with our perennial contract of very old Hill Country Sangiovese from Anchor Oaks Vineyard, which also came in with exceptional quality. That will be a treat to taste the differences when we release both next year after barrel aging.
Unfortunately, mid- to late-season reds in the High Plains were recently hit with continuous rainfall over five days. That rain brought on bunch rot the likes of which have not been seen in that part of the state in a very long time. It’s devastating for growers that are hanging many tons of fruit, with low sugars that wineries are reticent to accept. I predict that 2016 vintage reds will be in very short supply in the market because of it.
Our Dolcetto from Diamante Doble Vineyard in Tokio, TX came in with very good quality despite the impacts from rain. We performed a delestage fermentation technique with it to create our Rosé. The initial run created a juice with an interesting watermelon and mint aroma. We can’t wait to see how it develops.
While it’s been quite a challenging growing season in Texas, we have had an outstanding harvest in both the Texas Hill Country and High Plains vineyards. All indications are we will have an exceptional 2016 vintage. What a relief.
I’ll leave you with this: the reason we call the harvest season “crush” is because we crush fresh grapes to make wine. However, over my many years of winemaking I’ve come to realize the name is fitting for another reason. Harvest also crushes our minds, spirits, and bodies! Thankfully we’ll have delicious wine to help us rejuvenate to do it all over again next year.