Heading into the new year, it’s always fun to look back and reflect on the year – including the good, the bad and the ugly. Thankfully, we had a lot more good than bad and ugly.
Here’s a quick snapshot of 2023 and highlights from the Texas Fine Wine wineries.
Despite Mother Nature’s attempt to burn everything down this summer, our fine growers and winemakers managed to bring in a bountiful harvest of exceptional fruit that stands to rival 2017. While it was one of the longest harvests in history – with some of the last fruit coming off the vine in late October – everyone is excited about the wines in tank and barrel.
The experimentation in Texas continues with plantings of some new grapes including Pierce’s Disease-resistant Camminare Noir and Crimson Cabernet by Bending Branch Winery; Tinta Amarela and Teroldego by Pedernales Cellars and Petite Sirah by Spicewood Vineyards.
And while not a new variety, Duchman Family Winery will have Vermentino again in 2024, after several Texas High Plain freezes stunted white grape vines, and Spicewood will have estate Sauvignon Blanc again after replanting three years ago. Pedernales Cellars will have its first wine from its estate Kuhlken Vineyards since 2020 with this year’s harvest of Petite Sirah.
New Grape Growing Regions
While the Texas High Plains and Texas Hill Country are exceptional grape growing regions, the Texas Fine Wine wineries are exploring non-AVA areas with great climates for grapes. Spicewood Vineyards is getting fruit from far west Texas vineyards in Dell City and Alpine. It continues to source some fruit from the Fort Davis AVA, the only Texas region with volcanic soil.
Two new AVAs are in the works, including the Hickory Sands AVA that includes Tallent Vineyards. Tallent provides Cabernet Sauvignon, Charbono, Malbec, Mourvèdre, Tannat, Tempranillo and Petite Sirah to Bending Branch Winery.
Our first-ever Retrospective and Perspective that featured bottles from older vintages, current release and barrel samples showed that Texas wines have great aging potential. We tasted a 2012 Spicewood Tempranillo, 2012 Bending Branch Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 Duchman Aglianico and 2018 Pedernales Tempranillo Reserve – all still showing fruit notes and offering insightful comparisons to their barrel samples some 10+ years later.
Over the course of the year, Bending Branch Winery conducted a vertical tasting of Tempranillo from Newsom Vineyards while Spicewood shared verticals of the Good Guy and Tandem. Standouts included the 2012 and 2014 Bending Branch Tempranillos and the 2017 Good Guy and 2016 Tandem with a touch of Syrah from Spicewood. A recent Duchman review of 2012 and 2013 Aglianicos showed both wines have held up very well, ready to be enjoyed now.
Organic and Sustainable Production
Not easy to do, but many growers continue to find ways to be more sustainable and, in some cases, organic. Desert Willow Vineyards in the Texas High Plains, which provides Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Alicante Bouschet to Pedernales Cellars, will receive its organic certification in 2024.
Bending Branch Winery and Pedernales Cellars continue to add sustainability practices in its vineyard and winemaking practices, including minimizing or eliminating synthetic herbicides and pesticides and planting cover crops for biodiversity. Pedernales is part of a Texas State University professor’s master’s thesis project looking into the sustainability including economic viability, environmental stewardship and social equity.
The Bad and The Ugly
The Summer Meltdown
No doubt, the 2023 summer heatwave will go down in history as one of the worst. After a perfect spring with cooler temperatures and good rainfall, after June 6, everything started heating up and it never stopped.
Young People and Wine
While national surveys report young consumers are not engaged with the wine industry, Texas seems to buck this trend. While the new generation may not want to drink what their parents enjoy, they are curious and open to trying new things.
Duchman Family Winery’s General Manager Tommy Wellford notes they see plenty of young consumers and new families who are eager to learn about Texas wines and are not intimidated by varieties they may not be familiar with like Roussanne or Aglianico.
Bending Branch Winery co-owner Bob Young agrees, “Texans are excited and open-minded about new and unusual wine varieties.”