Vintners in the Hill Country region finished harvest just days ahead of the storm; now many are helping with relief efforts
As the Texas Gulf Coast transitions to recovery mode from the winds and severe flooding brought by Hurricane Harvey, the Lone Star State’s wine industry is breathing a sigh of relief. Texas wine appears to have been handed a pass this year, a rare thing for winemakers who often grapple with late freezes, summer wildfires, blazing heat and wet harvests. And an early spring and ideal summer helped Texas winemakers avoid catastrophe at harvest.
The two major appellations of Texas are the Hill Country AVA, the second-largest in the U.S., which surrounds the town of Fredericksburg and encompasses Austin and San Antonio, and the High Plains AVA, which lies some 370 miles northeast of the Hill Country, much farther inland, around Lubbock. Many of Texas’ up-and-coming wineries are based in and around the Hill Country AVA and source fruit from both appellations.
Wineries are reporting that both regions were spared from Harvey’s wrath. According to Joanna Wilczoch, vineyard manager at Pedernales Cellars, “2017 was marked by a mild winter that meant early budbreak and early ripening. So, we were ahead of schedule, so to speak.”
Wilczoch adds that her team finished harvest the Tuesday before the storm. “In a normal year, we typically contend with the late-summer double challenge of extreme heat and rain,” she said. “So good weather early in the year set us up to avoid bad weather later.”
“Harvey did not directly affect us,” said Pat Brennan, proprietor of Brennan Vineyards in the Hill Country. “However, the cooler weather and light rain resulting from Harvey has slowed things down, which has actually been a good thing for us as we had so much fruit coming in at the same time, and no tank space to process it.”
While picking is not yet finished in the High Plains, the weather has been dry and ideal. “Interestingly, the temperatures in the High Plains have been in the 80s during the day, down to the 50s at night,” said Ron Yates, owner of Spicewood Vineyards. “Healdsburg [in Sonoma County] is seeing highs of 110 and lows in the 70s—that should be Texas right now!”
“Our Hill Country fruit was all picked by the Thursday before the storm,” Yates added. “While we were nervous about the High Plains because the forecast showed a chance of rain for about 10 days, Harvey sucked all the moisture right out.”
All the vintners agreed that the perfect spring and summer months of 2017 not only helped mitigate any impact from Harvey, but also set the state up for one of the best harvests in recent memory, with quality and yields being categorized as exceptional across the board.
With harvest worry-free, several wineries focused on helping their fellow Texans. Bending Branch Winery is donating 5 percent of all tasting room and online sales for the month of September to the American Red Cross – Texas Gulf Region. During the Labor Day weekend, Duchman Family Winery accepted donations of needed supplies during its Wine Club Party and donated $5 from each bottle/growler of rosé sold to the J.J. Watt’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.
And Pedernales Cellars sponsored one of their associates to travel to Houston with her boat over the Labor Day weekend to aid in rescue operations. They not only covered her payroll, but also gave her money to help people in need.