By Penny Adams, winemaker
Our 2015 Texas Hill Country grape harvest has come to a close, and it has been bountiful. Not only were the tonnage yields high in our vineyards, but the quality of the grapes is outstanding. This year Mother Nature was good to us and our vineyard management practices paid off.
We had fantastic weather during fruit set, the time in spring when each flower forms a single grape. It was warm, relatively dry with no high wind, allowing for lots of grapes to form in each cluster.
Then we had a lot of rain early in the growing season, which was another major factor in the increased crop yield. The big rains came when the grapes were undergoing cell division. The abundance of cell division increased the ultimate size of the grapes. This was followed by cell enlargement in July when the rain ceased. Rain came at a perfect time to get large clusters, but then it was dry at the right time to enhance quality.
The second major factor in both quantity and quality of the 2015 harvest is canopy management. One of my big goals each year is to spend a lot of time managing the vines. Good canopy management goes a long way to protect vines for the entire year. If we don’t thin the leaves early to expose the grapes and let them gradually acclimate to the sun, the skins will get sun burned when we thin later in the season. The grapes have to be exposed to the sun from the get go, or they will raisin up.
We do a lot not just to remove the leaves and shoots, but also to remove excess fruit and position the remaining clusters. Crop drop is one of the most difficult things to teach people. It’s counter-intuitive to drop fruit on the ground. It’s depressing to waste grapes, but it’s necessary to improve the quality of the remaining grapes.
Having good balance between canopy load and fruit load increases the amount of sugar in the fruit. Brix (sugar content) are higher on average this year. The result will be higher potential alcohol wines with bigger flavors.
We’re seeing these results in both our estate vineyard, High Valley in San Saba County, and Mirasol Vineyards in Lampasas County. The Viognier from High Valley Vineyards is phenomenal. It’s the best fruit I’ve ever seen. The size of cluster is three to four times larger than usual and the cluster weight is up significantly as well.
In the Mirasol Vineyards, where we grow Tempranillo and Grenache on 10 years old vines for our Tioja red blend, we picked a record crop this year. It took us three days to harvest 12 tons of Tempranillo and four tons of Grenache. The red granite gravel soil and slightly higher elevation site — around 1200 ft. — both contribute to the high quality of fruit coming out of this vineyard. We’re seeing great color in the Grenache with uniform dark pigmentation across the clusters. We’re really pleased with it.
We will make about 60 to 70 percent of all of our wine with Hill Country fruit, with some Mourvèdre coming from Comanche County. The rest of our grapes, including Dolcetto, Montepulciano, Muscat Canelli, and Orange Muscat come from the Texas High Plains. Harvest is under way there now.
Wedding Oak Winery Hill Country Harvest 2015 by the Numbers
- We started our Hill Country harvest on July 24 and completed it on August 26
- We get 4 to 5 tons per acre in the Texas Hill Country
- In 2014 Wedding Oak Winery harvested 55 tons of grapes from the Texas Hill Country
- This year we picked 75 tons of grapes from the Hill Country
- That will make enough juice to fill 54,000 bottles of wine, or 4,500 cases
In summary: Quantity is up. Quality is up.