4.0 Cellars Grape Harvest 2020
Those of you who have visited or even driven by 4.0 Cellars probably noticed grape vines growing near Hwy 290, in front of the three Logo tanks at the entrance to the tasting room and patio area. These are mostly Black Spanish, or Lenoir, vines, a hybrid grape that grows well in the hot, more humid climates of Texas. The original vines were planted in 2013 by folks from Lost Oak Winery, one of our partner/owners, and were intended to be a “show” vineyard, a garden really, so that visitors could see and appreciate grapevines. Over the past few years, several vines have died and been replaced with Tannat and Tempranillo, creating what is now a field blend vineyard.
Since 2016, grapes from these vines have been harvested and taken to Brennan Vineyards, another of our partner/owners, in Comanche, Texas, where in collaboration with winemaker Todd Webster, they are made into a Portejas, or port-style wine. The grapes harvested in 2016 were of poor quality and not used in winemaking. From the 2017 vintage, about 1,000 pounds of grapes were harvested and eventually blended with Ruby Cabernet to make a popular, lighter-bodied Portejas that has now sold-out. The 2018 harvest of 1,100 pounds of fruit was processed and is resting in barrel at Brennan Vineyards until time to blend into the next version of 4.0 Cellars Portejas. The 2019 harvest, on 11-Aug, provided only 476 pounds, but it was of good quality. It will probably be blended with the 2018 crop to make a larger batch of Portejas for release later in 2020.
Now, what about the 2020 vintage? Assuming that things continued to progress well, we planned to harvest sound, ripe fruit the second week of August. Rob Reynolds and I worked hard this summer to manage the 4.0 Cellars vineyard. Early summer rains forced frequent application of fungicide sprays to control disease pressure, primarily from downy mildew, a fungus that damages leaves and reduces the vine’s photosynthesis capability to ripen grapes. If a downy mildew infection is not controlled, it can severely damage or destroy the fruit crop and even kill vines.
Another constant struggle has been to control weeds and grasses that grow vigorously under the vines where they not only look tacky and get in the way, but take up water and nutrients that would preferably go to grapevines.
Canopy management is important to develop good fruit. A cluster of grapes needs about 10-12 healthy leaves on the stem to properly develop. Longer stems really waste energy and resources while shorter stems with fewer leaves struggle to ripen fruit by harvest time. Sometimes it is necessary to cut off excess canopy, a process called hedging. For me, if a stem has grown above my outstretched reach, it is probably too long with too many leaves and needs to be trimmed.
Keeping an eye on the vines’ water needs is a critical step in getting to a good harvest. Early rains caused downy mildew problems, as noted above, but kept the vines well-watered. Later this summer, after the rains stopped, temperatures soared and frequent watering through a drip irrigation system was needed. Keeping the vines irrigated and healthy right up to harvest time is important.
In mid-July, it was necessary to drop fruit clusters from the vines that would likely not reach an appropriate level of ripeness when the rest of the vineyard was harvested. Some late fruit-set in the spring resulted in a number of mostly green clusters that simply would not ripen in time. Also, clusters that were deeply shaded inside the canopy tended to have a number of green grapes, while clusters with more access to sunlight were uniformly darkly colored. It is always a sad situation to remove fruit from the vine, but often necessary. So, on 16-July, Rob and I removed two hundred or more clusters that would not reach ripeness by harvest time.
On Sunday, 26-July, a sampling of grapes showed the ripeness level to be about 18-19 degrees Brix, a measure of sugar content in the grapes. When tasted, the grape skins were still a bit tough, the seeds were not brown enough, and the juice was tart. The grapes needed more time on the vine. The Brix level was measured at 22.5 on Thursday, 6-Aug, and the decision was made to harvest in a week when the grapes would hopefully hit a target Brix level of 23-24 in order to make a better quality Portejas.
HARVEST! On Thursday, 13-Aug, a crew of folks (see below) harvested the Black Spanish grapes and then enjoyed a glass of wine to celebrate. 1,034 lbs of fruit measured at 24 Brix was loaded into two picking bins and hauled to Brennan Vineyards in Comanche for processing. Todd Webster, Pat Brennan, Bill Hill, Travis Conley and their vineyard crew met us, weighed the fruit, destemmed and crushed it into another bin where it will be chilled and then inoculated with yeast for fermentation. It was a fun and exciting day signaling the official end of harvest.
Thanks to the harvest crew – Rob Reynolds, Carol Willis, Kevin Spivey, Jim Worthington, Trey Porter (“Warehouse”), Savannah Harrington, Chuck Harrington, and a special appearance from former general manager, Jesse Barter.
And, a special thanks to Rob Reynolds for his continued help and support in managing the 4.0 Cellars vineyard.