From the Vineyard
A mid-season view of the 2016 crop from our viticulturalist and winemaker, Penny S. Adams
Growing wine grapes in Texas is never easy. This growing season is no exception.
This vintage began much like 2015, with abundant rainfall. Just like last year, the heavy rains forced us to employ extensive vineyard management practices to keep diseases out of our vineyards. Excessive moisture often leads to mold and mildew problems in the vines.
Beyond the potential for disease, early season rains bring other vineyard management challenges. The ample rain helped to push a more even bud break across each grape varietal, which then creates more even fruit ripening within clusters and across clusters in a vine and varietal block. These phenomena are more problematic in some varieties, such as Grenache and Marsanne that tend to have a very wide window of bloom, fruit-set, and ultimately ripening. That might sound like a good thing, but the surplus grape clusters on the vines require additional hand work to drop fruit to concentrate nutrients in fewer clusters.
Adequate rainfall during the cell division stage of development results in larger cluster sizes. That is exactly what happened this year. I’m seeing larger than normal cluster sizes across many varieties, especially in Roussanne in our High Valley Vineyard.
Rainfall ceased throughout the hill country with perfect timing because most varieties are now in bunch closure phase. From now through ripening and harvest it's more difficult to get spray penetration through large leaf canopies and wrapped around clusters and berries throughout for protection. The good news is that drier conditions mean less need for spraying.
The impact of early season hail that hit the hill country is now showing up as slightly damaged clusters. This damage is particularly evident as we begin the cell enlargement stage. Our eastern-most vineyard, Mirasol Vineyard in Lampasas County, was hit the hardest with hail in early April. However the effect of the early damage was partially mitigated as steady rainfall pushed a new flush of growth capable of ripening in time to slightly improve our expected yield here.
The good news is that frequent rainfall in early season precluded any need for irrigation practices, and in some cases vines are still soaking up that nice moisture. However, growth is slowing in blocks with more shallow soils reverting the vines energy into ripening the crop load.
Balance of the vine fruit to canopy is excellent throughout most varieties as we move into the grape ripening phase known as veraison. This time of year is critical as I perform crop estimates per each vineyard block to help determine final yields expected for this vintage.
Veraison has begun in many blocks signifying the beginning of the ripening process. Early ripening red varieties like Tempranillo are beginning to show blushing color while white varieties like Viognier are beginning to soften.
If it’s not the weather we have to contend with, it’s the pests. With veraison well under way we began our annual battle with the birds by protecting the vines with netting this week, starting with white variety blocks. Almost all Hill Country vineyards are netted to protect the grape crop from damage, or even total destruction, from Mockingbirds, Cardinals, and other grape-loving bird species.
All in all, it looks like we are in for a strong 2016 vintage. My early estimates indicate a slightly lower overall yield than the bumper crop of our 2015 harvest, but higher quality fruit is expected in most variety blocks as rain events taper off.