Harvest 2022 Report: Winemaker, Seth Urbanek, Shares His Views from the Vines

We are almost finished with our 2022 wine grape harvest, and just like last year and the year before, we have unique challenges and opportunities. The intense heat this summer means that Harvest is happening fast and furiously. The upside is that hopefully, we’ll have all of the fruit processed before our son is due in mid-October. That’s right, our second child will be a harvest baby.

The Impact of Weather

The one constant in the Texas wine industry is that we are slaves to the weather. We survived another weird weather winter, followed by a blustery spring, and then plunged straight into an extreme drought accompanied by intense heat. Fortunately, V. vinifera is very adaptive and the grapevines still thrived.

The wine grape crops are smaller this year with some varietals and vineyard locations fairing slightly better than others. Yield is down primarily because strong Spring winds blew the flowers off of the grapevines. Those self-pollinating flowers are really delicate and susceptible to adverse weather. While we have healthy vines and canopy, we have less fruit.

The growing season started later than usual because winter came on really late. It didn’t get cold until February and stayed cold into March. The grapevines came out of dormancy much later, so we thought we would have a later harvest. However, that isn’t the case as the searing heat greatly accelerated their lifecycle.

In fact, harvest is earlier this year than I’ve ever seen — at least a week to 10 days early. After that late bud break, the grapes have matured rapidly with sugar levels picking up fast. The prematurely elevated sugar levels mean the grapes are ripening before the phenolic compounds are fully mature, as this greatly influences the tannins in the wine. Phenolics contribute to the color and mouthfeel of the wine and our watering strategy is really important in all of the vineyards we manage to ensure the levels we want. Proper irrigation of our vines slows the sugar ripening, allowing longer hang-time for more developed phenolic ripeness.

One significant advantage to the fast ripening and low rainfall is that we are seeing better acid retention and less potassium across grape varietals. That ensures our wines will have the brightness that we love.

A Promising Harvest in the Hill Country and the High Plains

We started our first Hill Country Harvest on August 4, which is a little behind our typical start date. While the sugar ripeness was there a week or so before the harvest date, the canopy and vines were really healthy, which allowed us to delay the start. We irrigated so sugar levels didn’t increase, but grapes ripened more let the grapes mature to enhance flavors. This late start date means that we are simultaneously picking in both the Hill Country and High Plains, which is a first for Wedding Oak Winery.

We have harvested beautiful Tempranillo from Mirasol Vineyard, and later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, Roussanne, Sangiovese, and Tannat from Hye Top Vineyards, both in the Hill Country. I always love High Top Vineyards’ fruit. We are getting a great mix of fruit from the High Plains with gorgeous Dolcetto, and Cinsault that we will use in our incredibly popular Castanet Rosé. We have harvested Muscat from Philips Vineyard and Diamanté Doble Vineyard, and are wrapping up the red grapes from the High Plains.

Harvesting Data

If you know me, you know that I’m really into wine science. This harvest I’m collecting data on grape chemistry and will be sending it to the good folks at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University. They will do an analysis to better understand how the acids in our Texas fruit evolve during the ripening process. It is noticeably different in Texas from other wine regions. I will present the data from the detailed analysis of wine acid composition at the Hill Country Wine Symposium this coming January and share it with the industry to help inform our colleagues of what we are seeing in the field (pun intended).

I’m excited to do this study. And, more importantly, I’m happy with this harvest overall. It will be a great vintage, with tighter quantities, but excellent quality.