The 2019 growing season bestowed blessing and curse for Texas vineyards, with a challenging growing year culminating in lower yields but the promise of exceptional wines from Texas wine grapes.
Early harvest varieties in Northeast Texas are bearing out the forecast of high-quality 2019 fruit.
“This season has been the tale of two extremes for most producers,” said Michael Cook, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension viticulture program special in Denton. “We had an exceptionally wet spring from the Gulf Coast to Hill Country and High Plains over to North Texas. Ample rains started in the fall and didn’t stop. All that rain was a blessing and a curse.”
Vines emerged uniformly at bud break due to consistent rains, he said, but strong, steady growth required more management of vines. Moisture also meant more intense disease pressure from fungal pathogens, including black rot and downy mildew.
“(Mold) was a major threat to producers who were not steadfast in their proactive management strategies,” Cook said. “But I think most producers were prepared and adapted to the disease pressure.”
Brianna Hoge, AgriLife Extension viticulture specialist in Fredricksburg, said Hill Country vineyards also dealt with a full array of bacterial and fungal issues.
“Some producers maybe sprayed a little late, but it’s definitely been a busy season,” she said. “Disease pressure kept everyone on their toes.”
In most vineyards across the state, Cook said, lower-than-normal yields are due to late April storms that impacted fruit set during bloom.
“The wind, rain and cloudy days slightly reduced fruit set at that critical time,” he said. “Vineyards in the High Plains are expecting higher yields because their vines were not in full bloom when those storms were occurring.”
Hoge said Hill Country grape yields were similarly low but berry weights could make up for reduced fruit sets. The weather also meant vines required less thinning.
Despite slight losses, Cook said vineyards along the Gulf Coast and Northeast Texas have reported high-quality grapes from their earlier harvest varieties. Hoge said Hill Country grape quality was expected to be exceptional.
“The reduced fruit set meant vines could put more energy into each berry,” she said. “The rain and cooler temperatures also kept pH levels below 4, which is good, and brix levels — the sugar content in grapes — were good overall.”
Also in the blessing and curse department: Soil leaching from heavy rains benefited and detracted from vine production, Cook said. Sodium leaching boosted vines but producers had to be more attentive to nitrogen management.
Then, in the past several weeks, a new set of challenges emerged as Mother Nature switched gears from deluge to drought.
“Drought conditions in late season from such a wet fall and spring caught some producers off guard,” Cook said. “Vines were living the good life early in the season and now the ground is cracking, temperatures are searing and vines are responding to the added stress.”
But Texas’ long growing season should allow producers enough time to harvest and maintain irrigation levels to help vines recover from dry conditions and store ample energy in their roots and trunks for the winter months.
Despite challenges, both Hoge and Cook used the word “excited” when talking about the potential 2019 wines.
“We’re all excited about the quality of the fruit coming into the wineries to be crushed,” Cook said. “It was a challenging year, but it looks to be another good season for Texas vineyards.”