Texas Vineyards Survive Harvey's Visit

Hurricane poured between 3 and 5 feet of rain on some Gulf Coast vineyards

by Linda Jones McKee
wine grapes texas vineyard hurricane harvey
Jonathan Schrock, general manager, and Jerry Bernhardt (standing), owner and winemaker at Bernhardt Winery in Plantersville, Texas, check vines to determine what spray(s) to apply in an effort to control fungal diseases in the vineyard after Hurricane Harvey.

Houston, Texas—The Gulf Coast of Texas took a direct hit from Hurricane Harvey, but the good news is vineyards there were almost entirely undamaged. The region has been described as having “warm breezes and micro-climate,” and as a result, grapegrowers had finished harvest by the end of July. By late August, the grapes had mostly finished fermentation and were safely ensconced in their tanks or barrels.


Fran Pontasch, the Gulf Coast extension program specialist at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, told Wines & Vines that for vineyards, the Gulf Coast did better than expected. “All the vineyards are small, mostly just a few acres,” she said. “The losses are small, maybe six vines at most in a vineyard. You can count the number on one hand.”

The region has 36 vineyards and 23 wineries, according to the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association. It is not an easy climate in which to grow grapes: The warm temperatures and high humidity, combined with frequent rain, create an environment that favors the growth of many fungal diseases. Most of the grapes grown there are Blanc du Bois, a white hybrid grape crossed by Dr. John A. Mortensen at the University of Florida’s Central Florida Research and Education Center in 1968 and released officially in 1987. The variety is tolerant of the humid climate and, even more important, is resistant to Pierce’s disease.

Haak Vineyards and Winery in Santa Fe, Texas, 20 miles from Galveston and 25 miles from Houston, is one of the largest wineries in the Gulf Coast region. Winemaker and president Raymond Haak told Wines & Vines that the winery produces about 9,000 cases of wine and has a 3-acre vineyard planted solely with Blanc du Bois. Haak noted that he got some of the first-released Blanc du Bois vines from Mortensen 35 years ago and makes seven different styles of wines from those grapes.

When asked about the hurricane, Haak reported that Santa Fe had the highest rainfall amount of anywhere in the Houston-Galveston area—about 59 inches or more. “We may not have had quite that much at the winery,” he said. “We had a little bit of water in the cellar, and lost power for about 16 hours. But now we’re doing great; we’re back on our feet. The crop was all off the vines, and that takes a load off the vine. They can have wet feet for several weeks if the crop is off.” Haak thinks they may have had some minor tornadoes as three cast aluminum light poles in their parking lot were broken during the storm.

Haak buys all of his red grapes from the High Plains region of Texas. On the day we spoke, he had just received 38 tons of Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional from near Lubbock. “The storm didn’t go there, so the grapes were in great shape.”

A week after Hurricane Harvey finally departed, Jerry Bernhardt, owner and winemaker at Bernhardt Winery in Plantersville, Texas, (about 60 miles northwest of Houston) was out in the vineyard, checking the vines and considering what sprays to apply. He reported that the vineyard got “more than 30 inches of rain over five days. It wasn’t a wind event, not like Hurricane Ike (in 2008), when things in the vineyard blew over. We’ve got pretty good drainage, and we survived.”

The grapes from Bernhardt’s 2-acre Blanc du Bois vineyard were picked in early July. He will probably apply a protective spray and expects that the vines will “go dormant by (the leaves) getting old. They’ll lose their leaves in mid-October.”

“We’re fortunate,” Bernhardt said. “We can stagger our fermentations here. The first week in July we harvest the whites; the first week in August we bring in the reds. Then in September we get grapes from West Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico and California.” He finishes in October, when the old-vine Zinfandel arrives from Lodi, Calif. The winery produces about 2,600 cases each year.



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