After the 100-year Freeze Texas Grape Growers Fight Back

andrew1by Andrew Chalk

Last year, late frosts in the Texas High Plains devastated the wine grape crop by around 90%. The event was so unusual that the U.S. Weather Service estimated that it was likely to happen less than once in every 100 years. How has the disaster affected grape growers views of the high plains as a grape growing area? Are they picking up sticks and planting other crops? I asked growers attending the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Annual Conference last week in Frisco.   

It may come as a surprise that, far from being deterred, growers are doubling down. Based only on the plantings that I was able to discover, and based only on plantings in the the High Plains, Texas’ grape growers will increase the state’s area under vine by over 13% this year. Specifically, they are planting at least 600 new acres to vines in 2014. The biggest single incremental planter that I found was Andy Timmons at Lost Draw Vineyards who is putting in  400 acres. When I asked him if he will sell all the crop, he smiles that it is almost all contracted for already. He has a small amount left for startup wineries and other new customers. Cognizant of the frost last year, he is installing wind machines in what may be a first for Texas. These machines circulate air in the vineyards, making freezing less likely.

andrew2Wind Machines Arrive at Lost Draw Vineyards in Brownfield

His brother, Dusty, reports that the Texas Custom Wine Works is putting in over 50 acres (as well as assisting in the planting of 10 additional acres for customers of the custom crush facility). He told me “I anticipate that there will be in excess of 600 new acres planted in Terry County this year. Considering that Terry County currently has almost 800 acres under vine, this is going to be the biggest year the state has ever seen!”

Vijay Reddy at Reddy Vineyards is putting in 60 acres, Cliff Bingham of Bingham Family Vineyards is putting in 30 acres. Steve Newsom at Amanecer Vineyard is putting in between 15 and 60 acres, depending on agricultural conditions. The remaining new planting is dispersed over dozens of other growers.

HIGH PLAINS NEW VINEYARD PLANTINGS IN 2014

WINERY NAME

ACREAGE

Amanecer Vineyard

15

Bingham Family Vineyards

30

La Pradera Vineyard

9

Lost Draw Vineyards

400

Newsom Vineyards

5

Reddy Vineyards

55

Texas Custom Wine Works

51

565

Note: Partial data only. Based on survey responses.

Consultant Bobby Cox considers my estimate of 600 new acres to be “almost certainly low”, based on his discovering previously unannounced plantings on a weekly basis in the course of his travels through the High Plains. One of the most curious cases was related to him by Vijay Reddy (one of the largest growers in the region). Two of his employees have started their own vineyard as a side-project, making the area a kind of “Silicon Vineyard” (analogous to silicon valley), where people who start out as viticultural workers go on to become owners.

The takeaway from this response to The Great Frost of 2013 is that it is a huge vote of confidence in the High Plains as a wine grape growing region. Vines typically do not yield a grape crop for three years and the investment in new vineyard land can take 20 years to recover. At current planting rates, the state’s grape acreage will double roughly every five years, which is going to drastically transform the picture of Texas as a winemaking region.

4 Comments

Filed under Andrew Chalk

4 responses to “After the 100-year Freeze Texas Grape Growers Fight Back

  1. Andrew, can you post these articles to the CraveDFW Facebook page so we can share with our customers?

  2. Pingback: Afternoon Brief, Feb. 27 : WIN Advisor

  3. Pingback: After the 100 Year Freeze Texas Grape Growers Fight Back - Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association

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