Grape Expectations: Texas Wine Boon Expected From Record 2018 Harvest Forecast

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According to recent reports, producers are feeling positive about 2018’s production levels in the Texas wine industry, which look like they could outshine last year’s outstanding performance. Wine has become a $13 billion industry in the Lone Star State, and 2017 saw Texas produce 1.8 million cases of wine – a record to date. This year is already looking like it could out-shine that.

Industry observers were taken by surprise with Texas’ totals when Wine America produced a state by state detailed report on the industry for 2017. Just three decades ago, there were only roughly two dozen wineries in Texas, which is now home to hundreds. However, the production of wine in Texas isn’t a fly-by-night franchise operation – it’s been happening here since the 1600s.

Grape Expectations: Texas Wine Boon Expected From Record 2018 Harvest Forecast

Photo: Facebook/Randy Bissell

According to Brianna Hoge, Viticulture Program Specialist for the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, wine making in Texas dates back to vines which were established by Franciscan priests who began cultivating them in the 17th century. Both German and Spanish immigrants to Texas also made wine here in the 19th century, at the end of which, Hoge says, grape vines from Texas were known to have helped save the wine industry in France. At the time, their vines were being overwhelmed by a disease called phylloxera. “We sent them root stalks essentially.  And now most grapes are grafted with phylloxera resistance with some of that early stalk.  Which I think is super cool,” Hoge explained.

Grape Expectations: Texas Wine Boon Expected From Record 2018 Harvest Forecast

Photo: Facebook/Richard’s Garden Center, LLC.

As the Viticulture Program Specialist for the university, part of Hoge’s job includes helping Texans to effectively start vineyards – because growing grapes in the Lone Star State isn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds. “We’ll start from the beginning, you know like, ‘Let’s see your site. Let’s see your concerns about water drainage and do you have the right soil types and do you need to amend your soil?  What type of water do you have?’ ‘Cause that matters around here too,” she stated. One such producer she’s recently assisted is Rancho Loma Vineyards, located in between the Texas Hill Country and the High Plains regions, near Coleman. Here, Vineyard Manager Josh Davis is in charge of three acres that were planted last year. Their location appears to have avoided two major weather issues – the harsh winters of the High Plains and the humidity of the Hill Country. And, with the sandy soil in their location, he feels there’s the potential they’ve found a considerable sweet spot for grape growing.

Grape Expectations: Texas Wine Boon Expected From Record 2018 Harvest Forecast

Photo: Facebook/Rancho Loma Vineyards

Their operation actually began three years ago when Rancho Loma took over 14 acres of High Plains vineyards in Brownfield and brought in Viticulture Director Ed Hellman. With his knowledge and expertise, Rancho Loma’s first vintage of Rhone white took home the Gold Medal at the prestigious 2017 TexSom international wine competition. They also received six additional medals over the course of May of this year. Drought, just one of the banes of a Texas farmer’s existence, isn’t as big an issue with grape growers, making vineyards and viticulture a hardier sector (in fact, too much water can dilute the juice of a grape). And, a good viticulture director will know or learn quickly how to deal with diseases and pests which threaten their crop. Subsequently what once seemed, by industry standards, like a fruitless labor here in the 1980s is a booming industry.

Grape Expectations: Texas Wine Boon Expected From Record 2018 Harvest Forecast

Photo: Facebook/Salt Lick Cellars

As a result, components such as vineyard tours have become a large part of the Texas wine industry. President-elect for the Texas Wine and Grape Grower’s Association, Paul Bonariggo, has stated that Orbitz has ranked the Texas Hill Country the second highest wine travel destination in America, with the first being that California powerhouse of Napa. “We really focused heavily on creating destinations for people to come visit and try the wines.  You can definitely buy the products in many retailers and chains throughout the state, and restaurants that partner and support Texas products, but to really get the full picture, you gotta go visit a winery,” he explained. Bonariggo stated that the industry will have more stable projections on the 2018 season by the end of June, but he anticipates that Texas grape growers will out-produce last year’s yield of 13K tons of grapes by an estimated additional 2-5K. Hoge (at the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension office in Fredericksburg) has her finger on the pulse of the Texas wine country. “We’ve got some glorious things happening out here..and I’m really excited to see where it goes in the next 5 to 10 years,” she noted. With a new crop of vineyards giving Texas winemakers the freedom to be more selective on the grapes they purchase, the opportunity for an even higher quality of wine to be developed is definitely on the horizon.