4.0 Cellars Growers and Vineyards: Texas High Plains AVA
As a special project for 4.0 Cellars general manager, Jesse Barter, this post is a compilation of the Texas High Plains (THP) vineyards and growers that produce a significant portion of the grapes used in 4.0 Cellars wines. This is certainly appropriate since about 85% of Texas’ wine grapes are grown in the Texas High Plains AVA (American Viticultural Area). The THP AVA covers a large area (over 8M acres) of mostly agricultural land, including all or parts of 24 counties. Although the AVA boundaries extend well north, and even somewhat northeast of Lubbock, most of the vineyards are located west, mostly southwest, of Lubbock (see map of Texas below).
A Summary List of key Viticultural Features for Texas High Plains AVA:
Warm days & ample sunshine for fully ripening grapes
Arid, low-humidity conditions help limit fungal & mildew disease pressure
Warm days & cool nights create good diurnal temperature conditions
Soils - primarily iron-rich loose sand top layer; subsoil of reddish sandy loam or hard caliche; low vigor, mostly excellent drainage
Sandy soil limits danger of phylloxera root louse infestation
Most significant agricultural danger – spring frosts & summer hail
The key growers and vineyards from which 4.0 Cellars wines are made include the following. The primary grape varieties used by Brennan Vineyards, Lost Oak Winery and McPherson Cellars to produce wines for 4.0 Cellars are noted.
Diamante Doble Vineyards, Tokio, TX, Terry County
growers: Jet & Gay Wilmeth, Ty & Mary Wilmeth
grape varieties: Montepulciano, Dolcetto, Malbec, Merlot, Mourvèdre,
Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Orange Muscat, Muscat Canelli,
Wilmeth Family Vineyards, Diamante Doble Dos, and Hart Vineyard, either owned or managed by the Wilmeth brothers, are included here
Bingham Family Vineyards, Meadow, TX, Terry County
growers: Cliff & Betty Bingham & family
grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Tempranillo, Viognier, Ruby Cabernet,
Sagmor Vineyard, Lubbock, TX, Lubbock County
growers: Kim McPherson & family
grape varieties: Sangiovese, Carignan,
McPherson Cellars also partners with and sources fruit from:
Lost Draw Vineyards, Timmons Ranch, and Castaño Prado Vineyards, all located near Brownfield in Terry County, southwest of Lubbock.
Vineyards on the Texas High Plains (THP), or Panhandle as it is often called, grow about 85% of all the wine grapes produced in the Lone Star State. Back in the late 1960’s-early 1970’s, in large part to suggestions made by Dr. Clinton McPherson, chemistry professor at Texas Tech University, cotton (row crop) farmers began experimenting with grapes as a cash crop that could be grown in the iron-rich, reddish sandy soil of the area and require only about 25% of the irrigation water needed to grow cotton. Another cash crop, peanuts, requires about 8 times as much irrigation water as grapevines. This was a critical element to the growth of viticulture on the THP because underground water is not only required to grow crops in this area, it is the most valuable farming resource. Once early pioneers in the area achieved a measure of success in growing grapes, many others followed.
Terry County, located southwest of Lubbock, and the small, county-seat city of Brownfield, represent the epicenter of grape growing in Texas. In fact, in 2016, the Texas Legislature declared Terry County the official Grape Capital of Texas. As of Jan, 2018, there were an estimated 4,000+ acres of vineyards in Terry County producing about 75% of the wine grapes grown in Texas.
The soil and climate on the THP, and specifically Terry County, make this area almost ideal for grape growing, at least as far as Texas is concerned. The soil, as mentioned, is primarily iron-rich, sandy loam that offers moderate nutrients and excellent drainage, both positive assets to a vineyard site. Too many nutrients will cause grapevines to over produce (be too vigorous) and limiting grape yields to optimum levels is critical to the production of high quality wines. Good drainage is important since grapevines prefer “dry feet.” Thick, clay-rich soils tend to hold water which can cause serious issues with root and vine disease pressure. Well-drained soil like that found in most of the THP provides a much better vineyard base.
During the growing season (April-October), the typical climate conditions on the THP include warm days, cool nights and mornings, ample sunshine, and quite arid conditions (low humidity). Sunshine and warmth are critical to grow the leaves on the vines which then do the photosynthesis necessary to not only keep a healthy vine, but to generate the fruit and ripen that fruit before harvest time. There is usually plenty of sunshine and warmth (or just call it heat) on the THP to produce quality grapes.
Warm days and cool nights create the important diurnal temperature conditions under which grapevines perform best. Diurnal temperature relates to the difference between the daily high and nightly low temperatures. The THP elevation between 3,000-4,000 ft above sea level is primarily responsible for the favorable diurnal temperature conditions. Typical for the THP are highs in the 90’s, and lows in the 50’s. This is pretty much ideal for grape growing. Also, the cool nights and mornings provide an opportunity to harvest grapes and get them shipped southeastward to where most of the wineries that purchase and use the grapes are located. The cooler the grapes can be at harvest means better conditions during transport with less pre-winery biological activity which can cause less than optimal fruit quality when delivered to the winemaker.
Arid, low-humidity conditions on the THP (often 10-15% humidity, and typically about 10 inches of rain per year) creates the requirement to irrigate grapevines at various intervals during the year. However, these arid conditions, along with frequent windy conditions, help keep the vines dry, thus limiting fungal and mildew disease pressure. The less fungal disease pressure on the vines, the less work the grower has to do, the less fungicide spray has to be used, and the better the overall quality of fruit can be expected at harvest. The arid, low humidity conditions on the THP are similar to many of the top wine-growing regions in California.
A final important factor for the THP is the generally flat topography of the landscape which makes vineyards easier to plant and allows growers to use mechanical methods for many of the major tasks, especially harvesting. THP Farmers are both adept at and comfortable with the use of large machines for their agricultural tasks, and this helps keep costs down.
One final note: The biggest threat to grape growing on the THP is spring frost episodes that can damage buds and young growth. Mother Nature recently (Apr-2018) sent some of this cold weather to our growers on the THP. Attempts to protect the vines from freeze damage requires much effort and expense. The Texas Wine Industry certainly does not need another major loss such as that which occurred in spring of 2013. Good luck to our friends in the Texas Panhandle.