Snow on the High Plains

There are late freezes, and there are late Freezes.  Unfortunately, the High Plains experienced the latter this week, with temperatures in the 20′s and snow on the vines.  Its impact is still unknown, but it could mean a challenging year for Texas grapes and Texas wine.  According to Betty Bingham of Bingham Family Vineyards, the extent of damage is related to the location of the vineyard, the variety, timing of pruning, and even the rootstock.  There’s a wide range of estimates for crop damage across all High Plains vineyards, from 0% to 80%, dependent on all these variables, but truth is these are just estimates.  Still-tight buds can be unaffected and many vines see a secondary budding.  Several other wine regions around the world like Burgundy, all throughout Germany and even Australia fear the frost and look secondary and tertiary budbreak for a good crop replacement.  As Betty says, “We really won’t know for two more weeks. Then again we won’t ‘really’ know till next August and September.”

This news reminded me of one of my first interviews with a Texas winemaker while working on a different project.  He told me that every month of the growing season he is on his knees for something different: please no late frost in April, please no hail in May, please no drought in June, please no rain at harvest.  Growing grapes in Texas is one of the most difficult agricultural endeavors one can undertake, and it requires a lot of monitoring, experimenting, collaborating and intelligence to be successful.  As we sit here, there are people all over the world researching how to delay budbreak, how to fight or prevent Pierce’s disease, how to optimize a variety’s potential through rootstock, how to prepare for and recover from Mother Nature’s whims.

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Photo courtesy of Dusty Timmons.

Texas is very much like Europe, constantly reconsidering strategy and looking for ways to maximize the elements.  That’s the reason vintages are so important for world class wines like Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne and Port: every year is so different.  California, for the most part, sees relatively stable weather conditions and is at less risk for extremes, but our wine growers are always on their toes, readjusting, learning new techniques, trying new approaches.  Several vineyard owners told me how they would be out the middle of the night, just walking through the vines, measuring, observing, worrying.  One winemaker and vineyard manager in the Hill Country told me he had a late night vision of setting a small grass fire under the vines, just to keep them warm.  I have no doubt they will find ways to make the best of this freeze as well and will come out of this season even more prepared for the next.

So “Thank you” to these obsessed, intelligent, passionate folks- for working so hard to put good wine in our cups.  Cheers!  And blessings.

- Margaret Shugart

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