Global warming no hoax for Texas fine wine grape growers (my piece this month for Houstonia magazine)

Please note that I’ve changed the time for my Franciacorta Real Story tasting in Las Vegas on Monday, October 17. The new time: 1-3 p.m. I hope to see you there! Thanks for your support…

texas-wine-countryIt all began with a press release that was as hyperbolic as it was surreal: “TEXAS FINE WINE PREDICTS 2016 HARVEST TO YIELD HIGH QUALITY FRUIT, WITH RECORD CROP FOR SOME VARIETIES.”

After the heavy 2016 spring rains and biblically proportioned flooding in central and southeast Texas, it seemed unlikely to me that fine wine growers here — especially in the Texas Hill Country — were to be blessed with a “record crop” of anything, let alone “high quality fruit.”

But when said adjuration reached the desk of one of my editors at Houstonia — Houston’s popular and editorially (as opposed to advertorially) driven monthly lifestyle magazine — she asked me to investigate in earnest.

Skeptical but undaunted, I swiftly learned that Texan fine wine grape growers had been spared a dreaded spring frost this year (although late spring cold temperatures did diminish yields in central Texas). But for a second year in a row, late April and Memorial Day rains had left a devastating wake of rot and mildew there. In southeast Texas, where growers were also afflicted by severe precipitation, a vineyard manager and winemaker for one of the state’s more critically acclaimed wineries told me she had lost her entire crop to canker disease.

When I started speaking to Texas High Plains growers, the narrative wasn’t as bleak. None of them spoke of “record yields” of “high quality” grapes. But across the board, they told me they were expecting a healthy crop thanks in part to the fact that spring weather had been mostly favorable. (Contrary to popular belief, the biggest challenge for Texas wine growers in’t the state’s hot summers, which most compensate for by acidifying their wines, a common practice here. The greater challenge faced by growers here is the late spring frost which can arrest the vegetative cycle of the vines.)

But then something remarkable happened. During a conversation with one of the state’s legacy growers and leading winemakers, he told me that he had grubbed up the Bordeaux varieties his father had planted. “Global warming,” he told me, was the reason that cooler-climate grape no longer delivered the quality they once did, he said. His winery was working more and more with Spanish grape varieties, he explained, and he was thrilled with the results.

Ding, ding, ding… Intrigued by this nugget and nudged by my editor, I contacted a couple of climate change experts at Texas A&M, including the Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon (wow, with all due respect to my adoptive and most beloved state, what a lonely job that must be!).

In the end, the story I filed for the October issue of Houstonia isn’t just another Texas cheerleader piece for local winemaking (sadly, there are way too many of those).

Click here to check it out.

Thanks to my editors who believed in the article and who gave me the extra time to flesh it out properly. And thanks to all the Texas winemakers who spoke so candidly and openly about the challenges they face. My exchanges with them really did a lot to restore my faith in the Texas wine industry.

To publicists who write and issue such cockamamie releases (I can’t think of a better word than cockamamie to describe the one in question; look it up and you will see what I mean): you are doing a disservice to the honest and earnest winemakers here by creating false expectations and disseminating misinformation. In the end, there turned out to be a great story there. A story very much worth telling…

2 thoughts on “Global warming no hoax for Texas fine wine grape growers (my piece this month for Houstonia magazine)

  1. You need to get your facts right and quote vineyard owners. Southeast Texas produces Blanc du Bois grapes which tolerate lots of rain, but you need to use sulfur-based fungicides to control grape diseases. Less than 5% of Texas grapes comes from SE Texas. This article appears to be written by a Liberal who knows nothing about the Texas Wine Industry. Although grape production yields were average on a per acre basis on the High Plains where 80% of grapes are grown, the acreage has increased dramatically. Since you did not quote any vineyard managers, where is the basis of your facts? You need to get your facts right!

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