2017 Texas Harvest on Target for High Quality and Quantity
By Penny S. Adams, winemaker and viticulturist for Wedding Oak Winery
We are busy in the vineyards harvesting wine grapes for what looks like another stellar vintage in the Texas wine country. This is the time of year when we see all of our hard work pay off with gorgeous clusters of grapes coming to ripeness, and making their way into the winery.
It has been a fairly ideal growing season. We started out the season with bud break about 10 to14 days earlier than normal in most grape varieties. Fortunately, we did not experience late spring frost events to destroy the young growth, even though it was close on several mornings around 36 degrees. We didn’t sustain lasting damage from limited early season light hail. The hail size, duration of the storm and vine phenology all determine damage.
Early in the season, just after fruit set, we had nice rainfall that helped determined the size of the grape clusters during this cell division stage. I'm seeing unusually large size clusters in varieties like Roussanne, Viognier and Mourvèdre. On the other hand, rainfall and wind conditions during fruit set of our Grenache vines have yielded smaller clusters and less fruit.
We had a battle with the birds this year too. Normally we don't install our bird netting in the Hill Country until early July. However, this year with the hot conditions the birds arrived early and in great numbers forcing a frenzy to get our netting up in early June.
The frequent rains this season let us bypass irrigation for the most part in our Hill Country vineyards, with the exception of new plantings. The rain also spurred a late burst of additional canopy growth. While this isn’t typically desirable, especially in vineyards with bird netting installed, it has not caused any problems with fruit quality. In fact, those new leaves are providing a little shade for the fruit during high sun intensity. Rainfall has helped keep the canopy healthy and producing sugars.
Normally, even with an early bud break the vine slows growth and the actual harvest timing is not earlier. However, this year it appears that our harvest will be earlier on most all varieties. The most significant differences I've seen are in Mourvèdre and Roussanne, which are our late ripening varieties, and they are going to be ready up to two weeks early. We will harvest right on time for our estate Viognier this week, and our Syrah will quickly follow next week.
Right now, the weather is shaping up to be pretty good for that last push of grape maturation. We’ve had hot and dry conditions with intermittent rainfall, with some vineyards receiving upwards of two inches in past four weeks. Luckily rain has been followed by heat drying down soils, which prevents berry swell and burst, and reduces the potential for cluster rot.
We are right on track to bring in projected tonnage from our estate, managed and contracted vineyards around the state. I update my early season yield estimates every month from fruit set through pre-harvest as conditions in the field change. Estimates are crucial for a successful harvest so that we allocate funds to pay our growers, arrange for proper number of picking bins to be transported from the winery to the field, hire the appropriate level of labor, order supplies like yeast and oak barrels, and plan tank space in the cellar. Late season reds, from the High Plains are likely not to find a home in any cellar in Texas unless yield estimates are right on target. We can’t bring in more grapes than we have tank space to process. The good news is we are right on track to hit our estimates for an abundant crop.
Not only is the quantity looking great but so is the quality! This year is shaping up to be a respectable vintage as the fruit is holding well in the field and developing delicious flavor profiles. While sugars are steadily increasing, the acids are holding well too.
We’re not to the finish line yet. If we receive significant rainfall between now and the end of harvest, the quality of some varieties may suffer. Rainfall will wash out the sugars and flavors, and then we’ll have to delay harvest for these elements to come together again. Normally this is only problematic in later ripening varieties with tropical moisture events later in summer, but the tropical storms have started earlier than normal this year. Please do your “No Rain” dance for just a short time until we get all of the grapes in the cellar.
Grape growing isn’t easy business. There are so many variables that are out of our hands that we have to manage. It is so satisfying to see everything coming together for another stand-out harvest. This means a fantastic 2017 vintage of wines is coming your way next year.