Category Archives: Winemaker’s blog

Fall Creek Vineyards 2014 Harvest Report

Time during this harvest season has flown like a wild Texas wind!  Grapes were hanging on the vines only weeks ago, and now they are converted into the wonderful beverage we all love to enjoy.  Even though the wines are at the early stages of development, we are in the position to foresee where they are heading, and this report is what I want to share now.  However, let us first take a look into what happened in terms of weather during the season.

Those of you living in central Texas won’t be surprised by the fact that we had one of the coolest summers in years.  Days over 100ºF could be counted on one hand and the temperature did not go much over a few units. Actually, temps in Dripping Springs, for example, which is the closest weather station to Salt Lick Vineyards, registered only five days that were right on 100ºF, not one degree higher during the entire season.  Now, I know that the psychological intimidation of 103 degrees may seem plenty high, but  consider that in recent years there were all sort of records that tracked many days above 100 degrees.  In fact, temperatures tracked way above 100 degrees, like in 2011 when there were around 77 of these days, including one reaching 110 degrees.  Hence, this summer was cooler by Texas standards. What this means, according to the Winkler Scale, is that this season in Texas has fallen off the chart.

The table to thWinkler scalee left shows the Growing Degree Days (GDD) accumulation zones as described by their authors.  The numbers indicate the summation of daily average temperatures minus 50ºF for a period of 7 months (more details below).  Interestingly, they were prudent enough to leave the fifth zone without a limit, contrary to more recent studies that indicate a ceiling of 4,860 GDD beyond which the area is considered “too hot” (Jones et al, 2010).  Well, this season central Texas had about 4,250 GDD up until August.  Estimation for the whole period (April to October) would be 5,620 GDD which would lead us to “zone VIII” if we follow Winkler’s rationale.  If Professor Winkler was with us today he would most likely be adjusting his scale either upwards and/or shortening the growing period.   So, why can we get world class wines here in the Texas Hill Country? Well, to begin, note that plants get the same amount of heat here compared to a cool climate region, the only difference is that they get it much faster in Texas.  Read about it in an earlier post here.

Harvest lowIn terms of rainfall, it would seem that it rained a lot, but the case is that up to August we carried a 30% deficit compared with the long term average in Dripping Springs.  The situation in Brady, close to another of our growers, Certenberg Vineyards, is quite similar, a slightly lower deficit but basically the same amount of water, about 16 inches so far this year.  When compared to last year, surprisingly enough, they are very similar on the total rainfall, but this year there have been more episodes of rain, and there is the feeling that more rain is coming.

 

Varieties

Overall the crop was normal to low in some cases, like Syrah which was affected by hail early in spring.  There were no health issues whatsoever and the vines enjoyed a longer and steady ripening time. We see great quality across the board, so we are very pleased by the results and anxious to see these wines in the market.

chardonnay lowChardonnay, Certenberg Vineyards - As usual, we open the season, so to speak, with this variety.  We tried to get it in at an earlier stage of maturity this year, so we harvested it on August 1st, just three days earlier than last year.  This way we were able to get a very fresh and vibrant wine.  After whole-cluster pressing, part of it went in to ferment in new French oak barrels for about 4 weeks.  Now it is resting in them after a racking, and the plan is to keep it there for a few months at least.  It looks very promising!.

tempranillo lowTempranillo, Salt Lick Vineyards -This variety pays good tribute to its name by being the very first red one to be ready for harvesting.  We picked it on two dates, August 11th and 13th.   At Fall Creek Vineyards, the approach with Tempranillo, as with some other varieties as well, was to work on a row by row basis, even plant by plant in some areas, in order to segregate them into two groups.  It’s not unusual that, due to a number of reasons, some plants develop a greater canopy than others and their fruit might be a little different.  It is very important, if the vocation is to make quality wine, to be aware of this early enough and act accordingly, which we did this year with great results so far.  Again, the idea was to harvest at the very right stage of ripeness, which can best be assessed by tasting (and analyzing) grapes on a daily basis.  Walking 3 to 4 miles every day pays off because we’ve got a wonderful, highly concentrated wine that got us very enthusiastic.

Syrah and Grenache, Salt Lick Vineyards.  They are meant for ourSyrah-Grenache
GSM, so a co-fermentation is just a way to let them get along well from the beginning.  Besides, they shared the same ripening time this year.  Beautifully colored and nice fruity aromas came out of the tank today.  The blending with the Mourvedre is a no brainer. so we’ll have a wonderful Rhone style wine from this vintage.

 

MerlotMerlot, Certenberg Vineyards.  Harvested on August 21st, this grape was just fantastic.  I can’t describe how pleasant the aromas are today and the color is outstanding.  Tannins are velvety and the wine as a whole is unique.  I am really surprised by how well adapted this variety can be to the place it’s grown.  It will make a memorable Meritus once combined with the Cabernet.

Mourvedre, Salt Lick Vineyards.  As described above, the mourvedre whiteMourvedre is a very nice component of our GSM.  It adds soft and easy tannins regardless of the long skin contact time and a nice color too.  It’s interesting to note that it took up to August 28th to get it ripe.

 

CabernetCabernet Sauvignon, Certenberg Vineyards.  Like the Tempranillo, the Cabernet was separated into two loads and kept apart at the winery.  This decision paid off, because now we have two wines which complement each other, and we can then blend for the very best resulting wine.  The wines are very serious Cabernets, dark and powerful, so they will need a long time for ageing, I would say not less that 18 months at this time.

As mentioned above, we expect this vintage to be another contribution to the prestige that Texas wine is steadily gaining.  We know we have all that it takes to produce premium wines, and the 2014 harvest reassures us in pursuing this goal.

Sergio Cuadra
Director of Winemaking
Fall Creek Vineyards

PS. More about Growing Degree Days (GDD).
For example, if the average temperature in May is 74ºF the accumulation of GDD for would be:

74ºF – 50ºF = 24ºF, and then,

24ºF x 31 days in May = 774 GDD for that month.  The same is done on the whole Apr-Oct period in order to get the total GDD of a particular area.

It is assumed that below 50ºF plants stop growing metabolism, that’s why GDD is considered an accumulation of plants active heat and helps quickly describing an area in terms of temperature.  It is not meant to be final as there are other more complex models that take a number of variables like latitude, humidity, winds and more, but it’s a simple and easy tool to use.

Literature cited

Winkler, A.J., J.A. Cook, W.M. Kliewer, and L.A. Lider. 1974. General Viticulture. 4th ed. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Jones et al. 2010. Spatial Analysis of Climate in Winegrape Growing Regions in the Western United States. Am. J. Enol. Vitic. 61: 313-326

Wine o’Clock News – Texas Terroir, Part 1

As a winemaker for 20 years in Chile, I was on my way last August to become the Director of Winemaking for Fall Creek Vineyards.  The minute I got off the plane in Austin, I immediately thought Texas weather was just too hot for growing high quality wine grapes;  it was something like 100ºF. Continue reading

Pruning fundamentals

It’s good to remember that vines have been growing by themselves a very long time before man discovered how wonderful fermented berry juice tasted.  Long before the trellising of poles and wires the vines made use of other trees and their branches to climb their way to the sun lighted perimeter of the forests where they could get more energy than in the shade.  Continue reading