I sent round my annual APB to every bonded winemaker in the state last week with a questionnaire about the 2012 grape harvest. Harvesting occurs from the east to the west so most of the eastern and central vineyards (mainly in the Hill Country) are already picked by now and the western wineries (mainly in the High Plains around Lubbock) are being picked very soon.
The replies were stunningly uniform and positive: 2012 will be a massive harvest, possibly the largest on record and will be of very high quality across all grape varieties. That is the consensus although there were some less positive and more cautionary voices. Here is a sample of responses.
What quality rating do you give to the 2012 vintage?
Les Constable of Brushy Creek Vineyards said “very high.” Constable grows more different varieities than maybe any other winery in the state in his vineyard a short drive north of Fort Worth. It is a veritable vine nursery. So this is a broad perspective.
Pierre de Wet of Kiepersol said “88%.” He has probably done better than anybody when it comes to battling adversity. His vineyards, just south of Tyler, are in what is usually considered the most adverse part of the state for vinifiera grapes (the grapes that make almost all the world’s best wine) due to the presence of a disease fatal to vines, Pierce’s disease. Nonetheless, he grows only vinifera grapes, and 16 varieties at that, fighting a never ending battle against the carrier of Pierce’s disease using some interesting weapons.
Raymond Haak of Haak Winery reported the vintage was “very good to excellent.” He grows in east Texas with a winery down in Galveston. He is a pioneer in the grape Blanc du Bois.
Some growers used a numeric scale to rate the vintage.
Phillip Anderson, General Manager at Cap Rock Winery in Lubbock, gave his crop 9/10. He and the current owners have been at Cap Rock less than two years after the winery had a tumultuous history including bankruptcy followed by the failure of the buyer out of bankruptcy to complete on their purchase. Cap Rock is now re-establishing itself and 2012 will be a crucial vintage in doing this.
Bobby Cox, wine consultant, gave it 9.5/10. He is one of the most respected wine makers in the state having been made the first Texas wine to earn a medal in California. Nowadays he seems to be the go-to consultant for new wineries.
Gene Estes of Lost Oak Winery gave the vintage 90/100 but cautioned that it was a little early to make firm judgments.
Don Pullum, winemaker at Sandstone Cellars Winery, Potontoc Vineyards and Junction Rivers Winery was also cautious but also detailed “There was an early bud break with no late spring freeze. Most vineyards in Mason county set a good crop. There’s been less 100 degree days than last year. If the grape grower was patient, and allowed the heavier fruit set to ripen, then there will be an increased production of very good quality wine.
How does the quality of the vintage rate relative to other years?
Angela Moench of Stone House Vineyard in the Hill Country just north of Austin was unequivocal: “Best ever.”
Bobby Cox also didn’t mince words: “Stunning.”
Gene Estes’ Lost Oak Viognier scored a double gold in the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle International Wine Competition with their 2010. He describes his 2012 as classic and thinks that it will be “equal to or better than our…2010”.
How does the size of the vintage compare with other vintages?
Answers here pointed to massive output in all regions. From the High Plains Phillip Anderson reported “Everything that I hear is that this will be the largest harvest in the High Plains ever. There are a number of new vineyards & new plantings on line this year.” From the Hill Country Seth Martin at Perissos Vineyard and Winery in Burnet said that the vintage was was “At least double 2010 and 4X over last years drought.”. Pierre de Wet in east Texas said he got crops “At planned and budgeted size.”
Some growers however suffered from smaller vineyards due to losses due to the drought last year. Les Constable reported this and “Caris” at Lightcatcher Winery in Fort Worth quantified the effects as producing a harvest that was “half or less of a full year.”
Which grape types did best? Which did worst?
The responses to this question reflected the varieties that the producers used so I will list every response.
Les Constable (Brushy Creek Vineyards). Best: Tempranillo. Worst: Riesling.
Raymond Haak (Haak Winery): “Without exception, all varieties performed very well.”
Pierre de Wet (Kiepersol): Viognier Best – Sangiovese worst
Phillip Anderson (Cap Rock Winery): Sangiovese & Tempranillo show the best, but nothing stands out as showing poorly.
Caris (Lightcatcher): “Everything struggled”
Don Pullum (Sandstone Cellars & others): Warm weather varietals, like Touriga, Syrah, Mourvedre, Alicante Bouschet did well. Even the Bordeaux varietals seem to be of higher quality.
Bobby Cox: “Vermentino? too early to tell- Sauvignon Blanc sucked”
Seth Martin (Perissos Vineyard and Winery): “Best: Syrah, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, Malbec, Aglianico, viognier, Roussanne. Worst: Dolcetto, Grenache and Mourvedre due to uneven ripening. They still make a killer Rose’ though.
Gene Estes (Lost Oak Winery): “It seemed to us that the early white varieties (Chardonnay, Viognier, Muscat, Malvasia Bianca) matured faster than ever before, and the yield was greater. These attributes would generally imply lower quality, but we are very impressed so far – especially with the Viognier. With regard to the early reds, I am pleased with our Merlot and Shiraz but not happy with our Tempranillo. In North Central Texas, Tempranillo always seems to ripen unevenly, but this year was even more uneven than normal. We have not yet harvested the late whites (Roussanne, Vermentino) or the late reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Dolcetto) but they seem to be maturing well. We are hopeful on these.”
What was your biggest problem during the year?
Bushy Creek reported “coons.” Haak had to contend with gulf coast rains, and several had to deal with logistics. For example: Perissos couldn’t get the farming labor. Cox didn’t have enough harvester capacity and Lost Oak didn’t have enough bins, harvesters, trucks or drivers. Alone, Kiepersol reported “no problems.”
What most excites you about the vintage?
Lightcatcher, one of the two wineries to see smaller yields, saw that as a virtue in giving “smaller berries, more concentrated color and flavor” . All of the other wineries alluded to the high quality accompanied by high yield – a virtuous circle for vineyards, wineries and consumers.
I have high hopes for the 2012 wines because, on the back of excellent fruit, wineries can focus on bringing the best human capital to the winemaking process. Now is the time for the newer wineries to spring for a consultant to show them how the experts make wine in Texas and thereby short-circuit their own learning curve. As I have travelled around the wineries in the state, I have found an astonishing number unfortunately committed to learning mainly from books and practicing once a year with each harvest. That simply takes too long. 2012 may be the best year to bite the bullet and bring some expertise on board.