In a bit of a turn of events, the Texas Hill Country along with other parts of the state look to dominate this year’s wine harvest due to an unexpected fall freeze last October in the Texas High Plains, which caused significant damage for some large High Plains vineyards that historically provide the bulk of fruit for Texas wineries. As a result of the low yields and excellent vineyard management, however, the Texas High Plains vineyards are expected to deliver high-quality fruit.
The Texas Hill Country is shaping up to deliver exceptional, concentrated and intense fruit, but with normal to slightly lower yields than the past two vintages. Thanks to strong 2018 and 2019 harvests, most wineries have great wine aging in barrels and stored in tanks – giving them more flexibility to deal with the less-than-expected grape yields.
With COVID-19 closing wineries for extended periods of time, wineries have moved toward virtual events and tastings and special offers to offset winery tasting room sales. With most wineries relying on tasting rooms for the bulk of their sales, however, it has been a challenging financial year. It is a bit of a “silver lining” that the 2020 harvest is smaller than usual – and not a bumper crop like 2019 and 2018 – given most wineries are not in a position to buy extra fruit.
Co-Founder David Kuhlken:
This is the craziest year I have ever seen with the 2020 harvest being a low-yield year, but the fruit quality should be good. With COVID-19 closing wineries and stalling sales, it’s probably a good thing that the 2020 vintage is smaller than usual because many wineries are cash-strapped to purchase fruit.
We started harvest at our estate vineyard, Kuhlken Vineyards, on Tuesday, July 21 with Tempranillo (yield and ripeness look good), followed by Albariño and Mourvèdre. Because some of the biggest vineyards we work with experienced significant damage from an October 2019 freeze, we have turned to other vineyards to source Tempranillo and some Italian varieties including Teroldego, Dolcetto, Montepulciano, and Sangiovese.
Co-Founder Julie Kuhlken on harvest/winery COVID protocols: We will handle most of our Hill Country estate harvest with just our team which has been working together throughout the shutdowns and following strict safety protocols. We will keep plenty of social distance spacing. In the High Plains, many of the large blocks that we would usually machine harvest were damaged by the early fall freeze in 2019, and instead we will harvest many smaller lots by hand, again relying heavily on our own team. For the same reasons, we will not be using the custom crush facilities in the High Plains, instead bringing the fruit to Pedernales Cellars to be processed by our team.
Owner Ron Yates: We started our white grape harvest the week of July 13, including our Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, and Viognier, with lower yields than normal, but great fruit quality and intensity. We will pick reds the week of July 20 and hope to finish up this weekend if the tropical storm heads this way.
We expect to get very little production from the Texas High Plains vineyards, but thanks to the past two years, we have plenty of wine in barrels and tanks that will allow us to continue our popular varieties as well as experiment with some new blends.
Harvest/winery COVID protocols: Our team is small and naturally spaced out during harvest and taking proper precautions. Once wineries can open again, we will continue to limit the number of people in the tasting room and will situate guests on the outdoor patio, lawn and event center with plenty of room.
General Manager Jennifer McInnis: We are getting more fruit this year than in the past from the Texas Hill Country with harvest getting underway around July 27 with Tannat from our estate vineyard, Lost Pirogue Vineyard, and Tempranillo from a nearby vineyard. All of our Picpoul this year will come from the estate vineyard. We are anticipating a great Malbec harvest from Cherokee Rose Vineyard in Comfort. We are about to release the first Malbec Reserve from that vineyard. I am very excited about the quality of our fruit this year – its intensity and concentration is really exceptional. We will get some fruit from the Texas High Plains; overall, the fruit will come from smaller lots from multiple vineyards.
Given harvest will be made up of smaller lots, we will not use the flash détente technology as much this year, and instead, will focus on small-batch, whole-berry fermentation and cryomaceration. We will use this opportunity to make more reserve and special selection wines.
It’s a bit of a relief the 2020 will not deliver a bumper crop like the past two years. Everybody got more fruit than they committed for last year. With our tasting room closed since March and lower sales, it would have been difficult to take on additional fruit from a big crop.
Harvest/winery COVID protocols: We will maintain our health and safety protocols as we shift more and more of our activities to the winery. We will continue practicing social distancing, mandating face coverings, and using UV-C wands on purchases and UV-C lamps in the restrooms. Additionally, the ozone machine is run weekly in the production facility and we have installed smaller units in the restrooms and tasting rooms.
Because of the intensity of the pandemic, Dr. Bob Young considers the risk too high to allow service indoors. Our team has developed protocols to provide outdoor service when Bending Branch reopens.
Vineyard Manager Travis Conley: We are expecting normal yields from our Comanche and Newburg Vineyards and fruit quality is looking great; our Muscat of Alexandria and Nero d’Avola look spectacular. We will start harvesting Viognier the week of July 20 (which is one of our earliest harvest dates), followed by Semillon, Tempranillo, Muscat, and Nero. Given the heat and drought, I expect this to be a fast-and-furious harvest, harvesting one variety after another, and picking everything by the end of August (last year, we completed our estate harvest about mid-September). Things are moving slower in the Texas High Plains; while we get much lower yields than normal from the growers there, the quality looks great.
Harvest/winery COVID protocols: We have a small team that has been highly focused on safe and healthy practices. The vineyard layout promotes social distancing, and once we start pressing, we will require face coverings, frequent hand washing, and using hand sanitizers frequently.
Winemaker Dave Reilly: 2020 will go down in history for many reasons; a bumper crop will not be one of them. Due to the freeze event last October on the Texas High Plains, we are not expecting to harvest any white wine grapes this year except for Roussanne. We expect very low yields from the red varieties with the exception of Sangiovese. Fingers crossed for 2021.
Harvest/winery COVID protocols: The winery crew is taking strict safety precautions at and outside of work, wearing face coverings, washing hands, using sanitizer, and practicing social distancing.