Texas vineyards endure rough growing season

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Erratic weather dealt Texas vineyards a difficult growing season as the industry continues to recover from pandemic-related setbacks, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

Michael Cook, AgriLife Extension viticulturist, Denton, said much of 2020 put financial stress on destination wineries and vineyards that relied heavily on visitors, dining and events like weddings.

More:South Texas farmers face a difficult few months after winter storm: 'It's devastating'

 Vineyards around the state faced a wide range of Texas weather from freezing temperatures and ice to bouts of drought and torrential rains during the 2021 growing season.

Weather events were the primary problem for individual growers across the state, and below-average yields, especially in certain grape varieties, are expected. Every region from East Texas to the High Plains, the Gulf Coast and Hill Country reported crop losses attributed to weather, including Winter Storm Uri, a late-spring frost and torrential spring rains that caused a multitude of potential problems for wine grape producers.

In February, Winter Storm Uri blanketed the entire state with ice and freezing temperatures and negatively impacted yields at many wine grape-producing vineyards this season. The extremely low temperatures killed some vines back to the ground and will require years of recovery before they produce fruit again, Cook said.

“Usually, we have one region that might be exposed to conditions that affect production, but everyone was impacted this year,” he said. “Significant damage was hit or miss, but weather certainly contributed to vine losses in certain regions and yield losses around the state.”

Grape growers expect quality over quantity

Fran Pontasch, AgriLife Extension viticulturist, Bryan-College Station, said wine grapes along the Gulf Coast experienced a similar growing season filled with uncertainty for growers and winemakers. Yields will also be down in the region, but there is still hope that quality grapes will lead to quality wines.

The winter storm caused uneven ripening in the region in varieties like Blanc du Bois, but weeks of rain have been detrimental to vines. Disease pressure was high and waterlogged grapes were splitting.

But overall, Pontasch said much of the harvest potential in the region remained uncertain, but that there was high hope for 2021 wines. The cooler temperatures are allowing grapes to mature slower and more gently, which will affect the wines they produce.

“For all the work growers have put in to get these grapes to maturity, I hope they do get good prices,” she said. “The vintage is a snapshot of that year and what it takes to get grapes from vine to bottle, and so 2021 will definitely be interesting and set it apart.”

COASTAL BEND

Flash flooding occurred with up to 12 inches of rainfall reported. Many creeks and rivers were out of their banks. Rain stopped all fieldwork. Fields were still holding water, but most of the high water receded. Sorghum harvest was severely delayed due to saturated fields but resumed over the weekend. There were reports of sprouting in grain sorghum and corn. Cotton was doing OK, but too much water was causing plants to abort some squares, and blooms and roots were likely under stress. Poor rice pollination was a concern during weeks of heavy rainfall. Rangeland and pasture conditions were unseasonably good due to adequate moisture and mild temperatures. Armyworm infestations were very heavy on hay fields and improved pastures. Cattle were heading to high ground due to wet conditions. Cattle prices remained higher, and inventories were steady.