Heavy rains make Hill Country wineries cautious about grape harvest


For many involved in Texas’ wine community, it’s a question that so far doesn’t have an answer: How will all this rain affect the quality of the grapes being grown in the Hill Country and the High Plains regions of the state?

Later in the growing season, grapes require “nice, dry, warm summer days to ripen,” Pedernales Cellars’ winemaker David Kuhlken said. So even though the floods that recently devastated areas in the Hill Country, including Wimberley and San Marcos in Hays County, have brought a higher than normal amount of rain to the area’s vineyards, the extra moisture isn’t detrimental to the grapes — yet. But if this rainy weather continues into the later summer months, he said, the grapes won’t be able to ripen in time.

There’s still another problem that arises from these rainy days, however. The humidity makes the grapevines susceptible to mildew and other fungi that can grow on the skins of the grapes if left unchecked by winemakers’ careful watching and spraying, Kuhlken said. Fungi growth can lead to grape rot.

While Kuhlken and the rest of the Pedernales Cellars team in Fredericksburg have been diligent about keeping away the pests, he said he’s noticed after driving around other vineyards in the area that “some are having a harder time than others.”

It’s a problem that Pilot Knob Vineyard, northwest of Georgetown, has already been dealing with, try as owner Craig Pinkley might to fend off the fungi from his fruit. His winery has one estate vineyard, used to make a Cabernet and a Tempranillo, that he originally felt was being “turbo-charged” by all the rain earlier this year. Now, the rain is proving a hindrance.

“There’s no way to combat what comes in with so many excessive days of rain,” he said, citing mold and rot issues. “You try to stay on top of your spray regimen, but it’s hard to make your way through a soggy field. And, of course, the spray can wash off in the rain, too.”

Pinkley is predicting lower yields of the grapes — but he can’t say for sure if the grapes that do remain will be as good in as past harvests. “Hopefully it doesn’t affect quality; I don’t think it will,” he said.

Kuhlken can’t say for sure, either. “Things are very difficult for the vineyards, but it’s a little early to say what the impact will be,” he said.

For Pedernales Cellars in particular, an April hailstorm caused the most trouble, decimating about 60 percent of the young grapes on the vines in the winery’s Kuhlken Vineyards. Although Pedernales sources grapes from seven other vineyards, none of which suffered hail damage in the April storm, the loss of the winery’s estate fruit means it won’t be able to have as many estate vintages this year as hoped — wines that come exclusively from the winery’s own vineyards and are thus special bottles.

Still, Kuhlken is optimistic. He remembers 2007, when “it rained and didn’t stop” all the way through harvest season, hampering the crop. As long as the rain lets up later this year, this harvest won’t be so bad, he said.

That’s the crucial time for growers, High Plains grape producer Neal Newsom of Newsom Vineyards said. With 150 acres devoted to growing grapes for a dozen Texas wineries, a venture he’s had in some form since the 1980s, he knows what weather conditions can do to the fruit.

“The only thing that would affect the crop in this part of the world is a lot of rain at harvest,” he said, although “if it became a biblical flood for the next four months, we’d have really bad issues.”

Thankfully, High Plains is producing a good grape harvest this year, he said. High Plains, in the northwestern part of the state, is a big provider of fruit for many Hill Country wineries.

Like Kuhlken, Pilot Knob’s Pinkley is in good spirits. “What we do is farming, so we have some kind of natural peril each year,” he said. “It’s either a freeze or a drought or, this year, too much rain. You have to learn how to roll with it, or you’re going to go batty worrying about what could happen.”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Trump: McCain ‘never had any intention’ of backing latest health care bill
Trump: McCain ‘never had any intention’ of backing latest health care bill

President Donald Trump took a shot at U.S. Sen. John McCain early Saturday in a series of tweets, saying the Arizona Republican “never had any intention” of voting for the latest GOP health care bill. McCain’s rejection of the Graham-Cassidy proposal effectively ends the party's chances at repealing Obamacare -- for now. >>...
Middle school runner chooses kindness over competitiveness
Middle school runner chooses kindness over competitiveness

A middle school athlete from Michigan showed that sportsmanship was more important than winning a cross country race, UpNorthLive.com reported. >> Read more trending news Amelia Malburg, an eighth-grader at Mason County Eastern, was running in a meet when she noticed her teammate was on the ground and struggling. Malburg said she generally...
Katrina victim says FEMA demanded money back 7 years later
Katrina victim says FEMA demanded money back 7 years later

A Florida woman said she was forced to pay back thousands of dollars she received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Hurricane Katrina. >> Read more trending news Deborah Campbell said the IRS came after her seven years after she got the money. "We were guaranteed that this was not needed to be repaid," the Jacksonville...
Iran tests new ballistic missile
Iran tests new ballistic missile

Iran tested a new ballistic missile that reportedly is capable of carrying multiple warheads, CNN reported Saturday, citing the nation's state-run broadcaster announced. >> Read more trending news “Iran has released footage of the successful test-launch of its new ballistic missile, Khorramshahr, a few hours after it was unveiled during...
Memo: Seattle officer bragged that 'mini Mafia' controlled off-duty contracts
Memo: Seattle officer bragged that 'mini Mafia' controlled off-duty contracts

As an FBI investigation into Seattle’s off-duty police work unfolds, additional claims of questionable tactics by officers have emerged, including a report that one policeman proudly called his fellow officers a “mini Mafia” in the way they secured, enforced, and collected on private security and traffic contracts in the booming city...
More Stories