Harvest season is in full swing in Texas, in fact, in the Texas Hill Country, it’s almost done! Things are shaping up great for the 2017 vintage, and the fruits of this harvest will be some of our best yet.
We are so excited about how well things are shaping up this year, Chris took some time out of his hectic harvest schedule for a quick Q&A with Mark Rashap of Another Bottle Down. It is evident that Chris is extremely excited about the 2017 harvest and the wines that it will bring to the William Chris portfolio – especially Texas Mourvèdre!
Mark Rashap: Tell us a little bit about where your grapes are coming from for the winery, and then we want to talk about where we are in terms of harvest and how it is really looking.
Chris Brundrett: Well, a little less than half our grapes come from the Texas Hill Country. We farm multiple different properties all over the Texas Hill Country AVA. We also have a farm in Brownsville, Texas, Hunter Vineyard, which has almost 3.5 acres of Merlot. Andy Timmons and his team from Lost Draw farms 99% of Hunter and the William Chris team helps manage operations.
If it would quit raining, I think we are going to have one of the best vintages the Texas High Plains has ever seen, in both quality and quantity. That’s because of great weather - a cool spring and a relatively moderate summer. The good rainfall in the spring and the relatively dry summer has led to a really great vintage across the board.
We are almost done with the Hill Country, we have about 50 tons left, mostly Bordeaux and a little Cabernet, but I would like to say that we are in one of the best vintages in my life or I have ever experienced, as far as the Hill Country goes.
As far as the Hill Country goes, it’s fantastic. Bill Blackmon and our vineyard management team, it’s been an honor to work with their group. Our company has built a great team, and we’ve produced some great wines together. I think people are going to write books and stories about the wine that we are producing at [Hye Estate], especially after our 2016 vintage. The 2016 vintage, started out good but was really challenging at the end. It’s always tough when we have to be better than excellent winemakers to make good wine.
This  vintage, is like the wine is making itself - we are growing the wine. As winemakers, we are kind of coaxing [the fruit] along. We are able to coax out the soulfulness and the little nuances. It is a lot more fun to make wine with a vintage like this one.
Mark: So in the Hill Country we are seeing that there is good ripeness? When you talk about a good vintage, we are referring of course that there is no rot or disease in the vineyard, right?
The nuances that you are talking about, does that come in terms of tannin, in terms of the balance, or acidity? Are those factors that you were looking for and seeing really good results in 2017?
Chris: I’ve seen a lot of vintages and usually we don’t have a problem with grapes making sugar, but we do have issues in physiological ripeness. So, we try to pick somewhat a little earlier than most vineyards do because we want to retain a lot of natural acidity. Last year, sugar was not building up but we saw a lot of physiological ripeness. That is the exact opposite of the typical vintage in Texas, we usually we are building sugar too fast and we are not physiologically ripe.
This vintage we are seeing great flavors. In some instances, we had to let the fruit hang a little bit longer than usual because the acidity was too high, which is, I think, a combination of not only the vintage, but our farming practices are just getting better and better. We are also seeing the same thing in the Texas High Plains AVA, especially with some of the younger vineyards that have had very light tonnage. The vineyards are ripening so beautifully.
Last night, we picked Grenache. We brought in a truckload of Grenache that was absolutely beautiful from Lahey Vineyard. We picked the fruit a little bit under ripe for a 2017 rosé wine. The acidity was perfect. I think, by the end of the week we will be picking the other half [of the block] for red wines. The reds are coming just beautifully as well. I’m actually concerned about too much acidity, but the flavors are there.
Mark: So as we are learning about this vineyard practices, and getting a little more understanding as far as what yields would do, in terms of the balance of acidity, and tannin and ripeness, and phenolic ripeness, in your opinion, that is what we are learning as an industry, both in the High Plains and in the Hill Country?
Chris: In Texas, we are blessed with incredible vigor regarding crop load. That is not always a good thing because with all that vigor we can also put up a lot of tonnage - then we take that tonnage off a little too late. However, in both the Texas Hill Country and in the Texas High Plains, I’m observing some of the best canopy management I’ve ever seen.
There are many reasons we are getting better as an industry, even though we are short on labor we can mechanize it to an extent. Doing that gives us more time to put personal hand labor into making sure that our canopies are managed properly. We are crop thinning earlier which is really helping us get more dialed in to growing the best quality fruit.
Our vineyards are also growing older and settling into their own a little bit.
Mark: So where are we at in terms of harvest 2017 in the High Plains?
Chris: We are at maybe 15-20% in the High Plains, just barely getting started. Most of the Muscat and Viognier has been picked except for some of the older blocks.
Mark: So the early ripening varieties are already coming in and then we are just kicking it off most of them.
Chris: I estimate that a lot of the younger vineyards are becoming ripe in the next few weeks, I mean we are probably bringing in probably 100 tons this week, especially the young stuff and then we’ve got some earlier ripening.
Red wines, I think we are going to pick Malbec, probably next week.
Usually, we have this nice little window of cushioning where we can use our winery facilities twice, we harvest in Hill Country and then we try to get everything cleared up and then start in the High Plains and then make that big push until October.
Mark: Chris, are you doing anything in the Davis Mountains area, or what do you see going out there or any other regions that maybe folks don’t know as much about?
Chris: The Davis Mountains are beautiful, we got a young vineyard out there, we are not going to pick anything up this year but next year I think we will be in full swing.
Then we have the Dolores Mountain Vineyard which is, to my knowledge, the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon in the state or at least one of the oldest in the state. We are only going to get a couple of tons out of that vineyard.
We invest a lot of money and don’t produce that much, but we are compelled to spend time and resources on Dolores Mountain because it is such a good vineyard and it makes beautiful wine. The vineyard boys have been really working hard out there. Even though it doesn’t bring us substantial financial benefits, it doesn’t need to because the wine we make out of Dolores Mountain is so beautiful.
Bill, our vineyard team, and our company is known for reviving old vineyards. I’m not sure why, but if you have a vineyard that’s dying we are the people to call. It’s been a fun experience though.
Out in East Texas, near Tyler, there are some folks doing a really great job. We brought in some beautiful Blanc du Bois from Enoch’s Stomp. I don’t know how they are doing it with the tough vintage and all the rain. It will be going into our 2017 Mary Ruth.
Mark: I always loved that wine! So, anything that you are seeing that you are particularly excited about, anywhere around the state, I mean we are looking at very high quality, any varieties really jump out at you?
Chris: The Mourvèdre is all over the Texas High Plains and all over the Texas Hill Country, we pulled in some incredible Mourvèdre out of our estate vineyards. Bill and the boys did a great job. We have some head trained Mourvèdre that had low yield but it was beautiful! The Lost Draw Mourvèdre was incredible, the Bingham family had a really nice block that I think developed really nicely too. We are looking at a really good vintage year and bright future for Texas Mourvèdre.
Also, we have a couple blocks of Tannat. The Hill Country Tannat came in really great, but the High Plains Tannat is looking incredible.
It just goes to show that year after year if we plant and work with the varieties that are meant to grow in Texas, that we get great results almost every year. It is easier when we put all our efforts into varieties that are meant to grow here in Texas rather than varieties that have trouble every year. We want to make great wine every vintage and have great wines as often as we can and when we work with the varieties that go well here it shows what kind of success we can have.
When you look out in the worldwide market, I think we are going to make some really great Cabernet Sauvignon in the Hill Country and in the High Plains, there is much more of a market to try to compete and carve out a niche in the worldwide market with more veterans than us. With Mourvedre and Tannat, the door is wide open for Texas wine to make its mark.