The wine grape harvest in Texas is now coming to a close and wineries are busy processing fruit. Here are how some Texas wineries are progressing through harvest.
The 2022 growing season got off to a slow start. Bud break in the vineyards was later than usual because cold temperatures lasted into mid-March. That kept the plants from moving to bud break until April, which is unusual in Texas and similar to timing for the West Coast. However, the grapes matured very quickly this year because the temperature degree days were considerably warmer. The summer and the growing season as a whole have been warmer than usual. In fact, every month starting with budbreak in April has been warmer than every month in previous years since 2014. The 2022 harvest has been one of the earliest harvests of recent history. In the Texas Hill Country, harvest started in Mid-July and was mostly complete by the first week of August. That is about two weeks ahead of typical years.
The vineyard loads were slightly below average. The vines in the Hill Country are still recovering from last year’s freeze. So, we have slightly smaller crops, but nice fruit. My take from the reds is that they will have well-developed tannins, and perhaps more structure than previous years. Our extraction strategy has been adjusted to manage the greater tannins. We’re reducing skin contact and doing gentle pump overs to keep the silky texture. The grapes look fantastic this year. Overall, really good quality fruit. The red grapes already show a promising vintage. In particular, Tempranillo is looking fantastic. Its quality is above average.
We work closely with high-quality farmers throughout the entire year to assist with vineyard management and growing decisions. Because of this tight collaboration, our fruit is phenomenal. Despite seeing lower yields in some vineyards around Texas, our 2022 harvest has produced enough tonnage to fulfill all our incubator member’s fruit needs as well as our own. This season, we have harvested 57 tons, with 35 tons coming from vineyards in the Hill Country, and 22 tons from our growers in the Texas High Plains. We have brought in 15 different varieties, from 10 vineyards in the Hill Country, and three vineyards in the High Plains.
Each growing season presents its own unique challenges in the vineyard. 2022 is no exception. This year we experienced a later than usual bud break because of an extended cold season (some people call it winter), a gusty spring, and a searingly hot summer all wrapped up in a drawn-out dry spell. All of that made for a shortened growing season for our grapevines both in the Texas Hill Country and in the High Plains.
So, what does that mean for the 2022 vintage?
- The strong winds in Spring blew away a lot of grape flowers so many of the vineyards in the state have smaller crops.
- We’re harvesting a bit later than years prior in the Hill Country and High Planes.
- The high heat and lack of rain have pushed the sugar levels higher in the grapes, but proper irrigation has allowed grapes to fully ripen before they get too sweet and lose their acidity.
Despite smaller crops, we are seeing amazing quality from several of our vineyards. Our own Estate-grown Tempranillo is insanely incredible. The Mourvèdre from Sandy Road Vineyards is going to make fantastic wine. Our Merlot and Cabernet from Friesen Vineyards will be a showstopper again this year.
The best-managed vineyards in Texas will have a smaller than usual crop, but with stellar quality. We think this will be one of the best vintages in recent history and maybe even better than the wines made in 2017.
Texas Heritage Vineyard, located in Fredericksburg, Texas, provided a Harvest Report from co-founder, Susan Johnson.
Mother Nature is working overtime in Texas Vineyards! Our excessive heat and total lack of rainfall have resulted in higher Brix (natural sugar level) numbers than normal for this time of the summer in central Texas vineyards. With bud-break in March being a full two to three weeks late this year, growers expected that harvest would be pushed back by an equal number of weeks. Not so!!
At Texas Heritage estate vineyard, our Viognier, always the first grape of the season to be harvested, achieved a Brix level of 22 by early July, and we began hand-harvesting this grape on July 12 early in the morning to avoid as much heat as possible. The red grape varieties, normally harvested in August, were ready much sooner than in typical years. We are finished with harvest in the Texas Hill Country and are 95% done with receiving fruit in mid-August. We are expecting some Cabernet Sauvignon to be harvested from the High Plains early next week. We are full into pressing/racking/barreling red wines and working at it daily.
The extreme weather led to lower quantities, but very good quality. The vineyard yields from the Hill Country is about 20-30% less than in previous years and we are receiving about 50% less fruit per acre from our growers on the High Plains.
The quality of the fruit is excellent this year. The quality of the wine made from these grapes is yet unknown, but we believe it will be more intense because of the high heat and concentrated growth season.
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 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.
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 letting 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 Phillips Vineyard and Diamanté Doble Vineyard and have started on the red grapes from the High Plains this week.