The Stout Report: Texas Wine and Grape Growing – Part 1

What is the single largest challenge to grape growing in the Texas Hill Country?

I was recently asked that question by a local restaurant director who is writing an article on Texas wine and grape growing.

It is hard to identify any one single greatest challenge, it’s a string of events that culminate with what you hope is a crop.

It starts in the spring with the late freeze which is almost always after bud break, killing the tender young shoots. Then comes the high winds during flowering to prevent consistent fruit set, followed by tornadic hail conditions.

We discovered a little moth a few years ago that has spread thru the USA wine regions called the grape berry moth, or GBM.

It doesn’t look like much, but when the eggs they lay in the young clusters hatch and eat their way out, they do some damage. We were organic growers until the GBM hit us. The bait traps were not enough to lower the population, so we had to spray a pesticide.

Another insect that can do much more lasting damage is the glassy winged sharp shooter. It carries deadly bacteria in its saliva that kills the vine. There is no cure once a vine is infected. The disease it carries is called Pierce’s Disease, or PD.

We have had several vines that were affected and we pulled them up as soon as the lab report confirmed its presence. PD is under control and not as wide spread as it was a few years ago. There have been outbreaks and several wineries lost their vineyards in the Hill Country and out in west Texas. To prevent widespread damage you use a very expensive systemic pesticide twice a season. The bugs still eat on the leaves, but die shortly after.

Once you make it past the freeze and hail storms, then comes the fun part of bird netting to keep the birds out. The game fence keeps the deer out and there is not much you can do to control the raccoons. Just hope they don’t eat too much. They should at least put the clips back on the nets so the birds don’t get in.

Grape growers in Texas are like prize fighters that keep coming up off the mat to fight another round, rumble in the jungle….

Last year the heat stressed the vines and the late freeze further reduced what everyone was hoping would be the end of 3 years of short crops. No such luck. What was harvested came in at higher than normal brix levels and should produce excellent wine.

The rains that had avoided us for so long finally came in the fall. Too late for the crop, but needed to fill the Blanco River and all the reservoirs in the area. It finally got us out of the Exceptional Drought that Central Texas has been in for the past 2 years.  It rained most of September thru December and almost caught up to the 34 inches of normal annual rainfall for Blanco County.

It got cold in December and January. At one point we recorded a low temperature of 16 degrees for 36 hours. It burst pipes in our pump houses and apartment on the property.

The good news is that it killed a bunch of bugs and we are finally out of the exceptional drought that has had a hold on us.

This spring has been exceptional in a good way.

I lost a bet with an ag agent about us the usual late March early April freeze.

The next bottle of wine is on me. Money well spent.

The mood is one of optimism. I attended a grower’s work shop at Flat Creek Winery up on Lake Travis last month and everyone has their fingers crossed. You can feel the excitement among the other growers, not just grape growers, peach, strawberry, corn and pecan growers. This is the best crop of peaches since 05 or 06 for most of the growers. Vogel peaches in Stonewall in the Hill Country picked some of the finest white peaches I have ever tasted. I just needed a bottle of Prosecco to put it over the top.

Peach folks from Parker County, Stonewall and Fredericksburg are finally getting a break. We made peach salsa last week that was soo good it was scary…..

I am afraid to say anymore. We made it thru flowering and fruit set and we are looking to get a larger than usually crop, maybe 4-5 tons this year if the birds and raccoons leave them alone. The bird nets are up and verasion is well under way.

Now if that tropical storm just stays south of us…………. Guy

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