With impacts from Winter Storm Uri and a lack of rainfall between October and April, a reduced crop could be likely for the 2021 wine season.
Brian Heath, owner of Grape Creek Vineyards, discussed how the weather will affect this season.
He also talked about what the Texas Hill Country can expect as far as wine industry growth in the next 5-10 years.
Q: How did the winter storm impact local grapes and vines? Will it hurt wine production at all?
A: “Freezing weather can create two risks: to the coming harvest and to the vines themselves.
“Regarding the latter, the vines seemed to have weathered the cold well. We have not seen much splitting and the blocks that are through budbreak seem to be showing most vines producing strong growth. That is a relief to the Texas Hill Country growers.
“It is too early to know what impact the severe weather had on this year’s crop. If the plants are in survival mode, they may direct more energy to canopy (leaves) development and less to fruit.
“Vineyards that have kept their vines in good shape and have controlled harvest volumes through thinning in past years will likely see the smallest shifts in production.”
Q: What do grapes need to have a successful year and have they gotten enough of it?
A: “In addition to the cold, we have not had a strong rain year. Grapevines love rains from October through April, but unlike many other local crops, May through August is best to only have occasional rains of one inch or less.
“If we continue on the path we are on, it is likely we will see reduced crop levels. However, a happy vine makes a sad grape for wine. The vines need to experience some stress to create smaller berries and concentrated colors and flavors.
“Of course, too much stress isn’t good either. Finding the balance is the art.”
Q: Has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the wine industry at all? If so, in what ways?
A: “The COVID-19 restrictions employed by state and local governments definitely had a negative effect. Grape Creek did better than most because we had a restaurant onsite and the governor’s orders made special provisions.
“The TABC also worked with wineries to establish temporary permits to serve food. As long as the winery had less than 50% of their revenue from alcohol, they could stay open. Some wineries have been open most of the time since May (all wineries closed from mid-March to May).
“All that said, the visitation levels were very high over the summer and fall. I think people wanted to get out of the cities and this gave them the chance to go ‘rural.’
“On a positive note, wineries also learned new approaches to their businesses that many are retaining to enhance the customer and member experience.”
Q: What do you believe is continuing to drive growth of the wine industry in the Texas Hill Country?
A: “The Fredericksburg area has become the epicenter for Texas wine. As wine agritourism grows in the area, more people see the opportunity.
“We are seeing new entrants that are making substantial capital investments in new projects that, in turn, help drive the local economy (construction, taxes, hotels and B&Bs, restaurants and long-term employment opportunities, etc.).
“At the same time, the growth so far hasn’t been cannibalistic to existing businesses. To some degree, we’re becoming a Texas version of Napa Valley.”
Q: How do you see the wine industry progressing in the next 5-10 years?
A: “I think we will see more and more of them installing larger vineyards, as opposed to offering a tasting room only.
“If other wine regions are any guide, I think we will see larger scale players showing up and making substantial investments in our community.”
Q: What do you think of the new AVA proposed labeling legislation?
A: “An AVA is an American Viticulture Area. There is a process to get an AVA approved with the Federal Tax and Trade Bureau based on similarity of solid and growing conditions, usually referred to as terroir.
“I was part of the process to get this bill made into law. Miguel Lecuona (opening Siboney Cellars later this year) wrote a white paper (guide) on the benefit of focusing on AVAs versus state appellations after the last legislative session.
“Most fine wines are appellated with an AVA, like Stag’s Leap, Napa Valley or the Texas Hill Country. In the past, the industry was in disagreement and it led to unnecessary conflict.
“Everyone came together on this one and it just was voted out of the House committee to be considered on the House floor.”