What is in Store for the 2021 Grape Harvest? Predictions from Winemaker, Seth Urbanek
2021 is far from being an ordinary year. If you guessed that the extreme weather in Texas will have an impact on this year’s grape crop, you guessed right. Here are my views on vineyard conditions as we start the 2021 harvest.
Texas Hill Country 2021 Harvest
The deep freeze that we experienced in February had a dramatic impact on the vineyards In the Texas Hill Country. Despite its potential to be completely disastrous to our vineyards, the freeze came at an optimal time when the grapevines were in dormancy. That is a period when they are as cold-hardy as they can get, so the freeze did not wipe out vineyards completely. Instead, we lost crops at some vineyard sites with certain grape varietals that didn’t handle the cold as well.
Because of the freeze, we will get no fruit from some Hill Country growers that we typically rely on, while other vineyards will have about 20% less fruit. Our estate vineyard will produce far less fruit this year, and a couple of varietals will have no fruit at all. This year we will not harvest any Hill Country Aglianico or Sangiovese, and we lost our largest Tempranillo and Grenache blocks in the Hill Country.
I never thought I’d say it, but we haven’t had enough heat in Central Texas. That, coupled with a lot of rain has caused mildew to grow in some vineyards, further diminishing the crop.
The result is that we expect to get about 10% of our total crop from the Hill Country, and the bulk of our grapes from the High Plains. In a typical year, we get about 50% of our fruit from Hill Country and 50% from High Plains growers.
Now for the good news. Without the typical scorching heat and with lots of rain, the 2021 harvest is going to be much later in the season than typical years. Normally we would be done picking all grapes in the Hill Country by mid-August, and this year we are just now starting to harvest our first grapes with Viognier and Tempranillo for Rosé. We won’t really be into the swing of things until in mid-August. The extended period allows for the phenolic ripeness that can sometimes be elusive. The longer hang times allow for more concentrated pigments, higher sugar levels, and the richer development of fruit flavors. This year will be the longest growing season that we’ve ever seen.
The outcome is that while the vineyard yields will be extremely diminished, we will have very high-quality grapes.
Texas High Plains 2021 Harvest
Knowing that we would have significant crop loss in the Hill Country, I have spent quite a bit of time in the High Plains this year. At the beginning of the growing season, just after the freeze, things looked really grim. The vineyards in the High Plains haven’t yet fully recovered from the devastating Halloween freeze of 2019. Then the February freeze delayed growth, and the vines didn’t look robust.
Fortunately, the milder temperatures and increased rainfall facilitated better growing conditions on the High Plains and enabled a strong recovery. Many grape growers will have better grape yields than they originally thought at the beginning of the season. In fact, the growing degree days are like the 2019 season, which produced a really good vintage. As with the Hill Country, the growing season is extended by about 10 days, giving more phenolic ripeness. We plan to start harvest in the High Plains around August 20-25 with Albariño and Riesling. What started out looking like doom and gloom may turn into a very good vintage.
Despite the high quality of the grapes, there will be less quantity than in prime growing years. We expect less tonnage than in 2019. The freeze injured the vines, causing lower fruitfulness.
As in life, necessity is the mother of invention in winemaking. Lower yields and the absence of some grape varietals mean that Wedding Oak Winery will work with new growers to source our grapes. And we will make wine with new varietals to have a full portfolio. We are excited to introduce Souzao, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Touriga Nacional, and Teroldego this year. We also are thrilled to work with our new partners in the High Plains and Northwest Texas.
We are starting the 2021 harvest with a lot of optimism for an excellent vintage.