The Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association (TWGGA) switched to a virtual format for their annual forum this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That was a significant change in itself, but then Texas wine growers were dealt another blow from Winter Storm Uri. TWGGA was quick on their feet and rescheduled several days’ worth of events to allow presenters and attendees some time to recover from Uri. This reschedule actually worked well for me, as my wife and I were pulling wet drywall from a burst pipe on a day I had originally planned to attend the TWGGA virtual forum.
The TWGGA virtual forum consisted of four days of educational sessions (Tasting Room Management, Business/Marketing/Financial, Vineyard Management, and Winery Management), a virtual tasting event of gold medal-winning Texas wines, virtual exhibitor booths, as well as various member meetings. TWGGA offered a lot of flexibility in the registration allowing attendees to attend the entire forum, single-day registrations for the educational sessions, and even a-la-carte educational session options. TWGGA is also making the sessions available by replay until the end of 2021. I attended a Tasting Room session, two Vineyard Management sessions, and a Winery Management Session.
Tasting Room Session: US Wine Consumption Trends: Pre, During, and Post COVID
In this session, Natalia Velikova, Ph.D., of the Texas Wine Marketing Research Institute at Texas Tech shared the results of a global wine consumption trends study. The study polled consumers during the initial COVID lockdowns as well as afterward. Velikova led the U.S.-based aspects of the research. She pointed out the trends among different demographics that started during the initial lockdowns and persisted for some time afterward, showing what may be more permanent changes in consumer buying trends. Paul Bonarrigo of Messina Hof Winery and Dave Bryant of the Texas Wine Collective joined the conversation to share their experiences in changing consumer expectations. They also shared how their wineries have adapted to COVID-related impacts and what may become long-term changes in how they run their businesses.
Vineyard Management Session: Selecting Varieties for the Unique Climate of Texas
In Selecting Varieties for the Unique Climate of Texas, Dr. Pierre Helwi and Dr. Justin Scheiner of Texas A&M University presented their research on which climate characteristics of grape varieties are important to consider for those growing grapes in Texas. They covered ripeness characteristics, growing season length, cold hardiness, typical bud break timing, as well as some typical disease considerations. They also shared which grape varieties are increasing and decreasing in acreage across Texas and the importance of marketability when selecting which grape varieties to plant. As Texas vineyard owners continue to assess the impact of Winter Storm Uri, this was a very timely and relevant session.
Vineyard Management Session: Putting Down Roots: Lessons Learned from Planting a New Vineyard
In Putting Down Roots, Maura and Dan Sharp told their story of planting a new vineyard on the land that once was the home of the historic Vineyard at Blue Mountain, the first commercial vinifera vineyard in Texas. Texas Wine Lover recently reviewed Gretchen Glasscock’s story about founding this vineyard, so it was great to learn more about the Sharps’ efforts and plans in the Texas Davis Mountains AVA. Daniel Pate of Apical Texas helped moderate the session, as he shared his insights as the Sharps’ viticulturist. Maura and Dan shared how they fell in love with the Davis Mountains, the search for their property, and the trials and tribulations of planting a new vineyard in a very remote location. They also offered some great business tips for those that plan to start a new vineyard. The Sharps are focusing on Cabernet Sauvignon and currently have one acre planted with plans to plant three more acres this year. I’m excited to watch their progress and am patiently waiting to try a wine from their vineyard.
Winery Session: Upcoming Varietals in Texas: Clairette Blanche, Mencia & Prieto Picudo, Gruner Veltliner, Alicante Bouschet
In this session, attendees heard from four grape growers about their experiences growing grape varieties that are relatively new to Texas. Mike Nelson of Ab Astris Winey in the Hill Country led us off with his experience with Clairette Blanche. Clairette Blanche is a white wine grape that originated in the Southern Rhône and made it to Ab Astris by way of Tablas Creek’s nursery program. Mike noted that Clairette Blanche is easy to maintain and has late bud break and ripening. It makes a wine that showcases minerality with melon and citrus zest characteristics. Ab Astris’ first estate wine was their 2019 Clairette Blanche. Next, we moved from the Hill Country to the northern reaches of Texas High Plains to Steven and Pamela Yoder’s Vingo Vineyards. The Yoders shared the story of their 4 acres of Gruner Veltliner, the predominant white wine grape variety of Austria. The Yoders noted their vineyard typically runs about ten degrees cooler than many of Texas High Plains vineyards, making it a great location for this cooler climate grape.
The session then moved on to red grape varieties and back to the Hill Country. Reagan Sivadon and Bryan Chagoly of Sandy Road Vineyards gave us thoughtful insight into the Spanish red grape varieties of Mencia and Prieto Picudo. These grapes grow alongside and are typically blended in Tempranillo in Spain. They have two acres planted of each Mencia and Prieto Picudo. Sandy Road Vineyards was the first to plant Mencia in Texas and the first to plant Prieto Picudo in the U.S.! They have a 2019 Mencia in barrel and have found that it has a lot of color and red fruit characteristics. For their first Prieto Picudo harvest, they pulled the fruit early and made a Pét-Nat. They’ve found that Prieto Picudo also has a lot of color but exhibits more dark fruit characteristics. Next Jet Wilmeth of Diamante Doble Vineyards in the High Plains finished the session with Alicante Bouschet. This teinturier grape, meaning it has both red skin and red flesh, originated in Southern France. Jet has found that this grape’s thick skins help with disease resistance, and the grape maintains its acidity well. It makes wines with dark plum and dark cherry flavors, a nice level of tannins, and full body. Jet originally planted his three acres of Alicante Bouschet six years ago.
My wife and I have attended several traditional TWGGA forums in the past, and I have to say TWGGA did a great job of matching the virtual event as closely as possible to previous in-person events. Four sessions were but a taste of what the TWGGA virtual forum had to offer, so I have to commend the organizers and presenters on the scale and quality of the virtual event. I enjoyed all of the sessions I attended, and they made me eager to be back at a TWGGA in-person event having some great conversations about the future of Texas wine.