Vintage 2017 – The Best Ever in Texas?
By now you have probably heard accolades and high praise from Texas growers and vintners about the bountiful and high quality grape harvest for 2017. The fruit was ripe, rich in color and flavor, and “California-esque” according to some. This bodes well for the 2017 vintage white and rose’ wines that will be released in 2018, and the red wines that will follow in 2019. My recommendation is to get your cellars and your bank accounts ready for some wonderful wines from 2017. Was this the best Texas vintage ever? Let’s look back and consider that question.
The weather in 2017 was near perfect for grape growing in most Texas wine regions. Rain seemed to fall when it was needed, and mostly did not fall when it would have caused problems. There was ample sunshine for ripening the fruit, and there were relatively long dry spells with mild wind conditions that kept grapevines, leaves and fruit, from significant mildew/disease pressure. Most growers reported spraying for mildew diseases fewer times than in the past two vintages. The winter was relatively mild and the spring free from early freeze/frost episodes that would have damaged the early budding vines and early developing flowers or fruit clusters. Finally, the temperatures during the growing season were mostly moderate, allowing grapes to reach optimum ripeness, without the mad race to harvest that sometimes occurs to avoid excessive sugar levels and sunburned grape skins. All of this led to an early (by 7-14 days) harvest of very high quality grapes.
The 2017 vintage was not without its issues, however. Most notably, there were some severe hail storms on the Texas High Plains, concentrated around Brownfield and in the southeastern portion of Terry County. Some vineyards experienced significant fruit loss, and a few were declared a total loss. Luckily, unaffected vineyards produced an abundance of quality fruit that helped many wineries make up for losses to hail damage.
A look back at recent history indicates that Texas vines have not always enjoyed such good conditions as in 2017. 2010 was a reasonable year with mostly adequate rainfall, but some significantly higher temperatures. 2011 and 2012 were considered drought years, with more limited rainfall and quite warm temperatures. 2013 was a disastrous vintage with multiple spring frost episodes that severely limited fruit production. There were also damaging hail storms in some regions. It has been estimated that as much as 90% of the grape crop was either destroyed or damaged. 2014 also experienced early spring frost episodes, but to a lesser extent. Estimates put grape losses in the 40-50% range. 2015, as you may remember, was the year of the Memorial Day floods that inundated the Hill Country and dropped excessive moisture on the High Plains. The unusually wet summer resulted in a lot of fruit on the vines, but mildew/mold disease pressure in warm, humid conditions damaged fruit and/or limited its overall quality. 2016 was not so bad as 2015, but there was still a lot more rain than is typical for Texas’ grape growing regions. You can probably remember how wonderful the Hill Country wildflower seasons were in 2015 and 2016 because of the significant rainfall.
So, was 2017 the best Texas grape vintage ever? Probably, but that would be hard to confirm since I personally do not have records prior to 2010 to support such a conclusion. However, when one considers that the Texas wine industry really started a rapid rise in both quantity and quality of production in the mid-2000’s, it is relatively safe to say that 2017 was the best vintage of the past decade. There was certainly a lot more fruit produced in 2017, and the quality was exceptionally high. Let’s all get ready for the 2017’s to be released over the next 1-3 years, and just enjoy the fruits of the growers and vintners efforts here in the Lone Star State.
An article about the Texas 2017 grape vintage appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on Wednesday, 4-Oct-2017. Comments from Pedernales Cellars, Bending Branch Winery and Brennan Vineyards, all members of the Texas Fine Wine group, were featured in the article.