Texas wine-grape vineyards were seeing below-average yields and above-average quality following a challenging 2022 growing season, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.
Drought and extreme heat impacted yields in every Texas region, but the arid conditions provided some positives, especially in areas that historically experience more fungal disease pressure due to rainfall and high humidity.
AgriLife Extension viticulturists Fran Pontasch, Bryan-College Station; Brianna Crowley, Fredericksburg; Michael Cook, Denton, and Daniel Hillin, Lubbock, provided a general snapshot of the season for their respective regions.
Pontasch said harvest was wrapping up along the Gulf Coast. Drought and heat led to below-average yields, but also contributed to exceptional quality for grapes.
Disease pressure was much lower than usual because humidity levels were low. Dry conditions also contributed to good sugar content in blanc du bois, the primary grape grown in the region.
“Blanc du bois is an early variety and luckily was ready for harvest about six weeks into drought conditions here,” she said. “So, the grapes benefitted from no disease and were very good quality with some irrigation.”
The 2022 season was also a year of expansion in the Coastal Bend, Pontasch said. Growers were adding capacity with new acres, new vines and new varieties to serve the incredible number of wineries
Growers along the Coastal Bend region of the state are very limited in the grape varieties they can grow due to hot, humid conditions. Most vineyards are small – 2-3 acres, Pontasch said. But they band together to contribute important yields of blanc du bois to serve in- and out-of-state demand.
New varieties emerging from California, Florida and Arkansas that could be suited for the region’s conditions could further expand opportunities for vineyards in the region, she said.
Crowley said vineyards began experiencing severe drought much earlier than many parts of the state. Rainfall totals since October were around 4-5 inches for many growers this season.
The result was a very low crop load despite irrigation, she said. Crowley estimated grape yields would be 30%-50% of the average growing season.
Fruit size, like for many fruit-bearing plants, on grape vines were smaller than normal, she said. But quality was very good.
“It has been very dry, and the heat came early and has been relentless,” she said. “So, it has been a struggle to get vine root systems the moisture they need to work efficiently.”
Disease pressure was very low this season, but the heat and drought stress compounded problems related to vine recovery from Winter Storm Uri and isolated disease hot spots. Crowley said there were reports of botrytis, a fungus that damages fruit, that may have occurred following several dewy mornings.
High Plains and West Texas
Hillin said the 2022 season started a few weeks late in the High Plains but is set to finish a bit early. Growers in the High Plains are about midway through grape harvest.
A lack of early season rainfall and cool spring temperatures slowed bud break, but high temperatures in May and June sped up the maturation and ripening process to harvest. Hillin said it was too early to speculate about yield numbers, but quality looked excellent so far.
“The story this season was the early bud break, severe drought and multiple days above 100 degrees,” he said. “Growers were irrigating heavily this year to keep everything going, but overall, in terms of quality, it is going to be good.”
Vineyards in the High Plains produce around 80%-85% of Texas wine grapes, he said. The drier climate allows growers to produce around 30 different Vitis vinifera grape varieties. The unique terroir of the High Plains American Viticultural Area is conducive to growing these high-quality French, Italian and Spanish varieties.
Hillin said growers continued to install new acres in both the High Plains and West Texas regions while some experienced weather-related setbacks from either extreme heat or freezes.
Winter damage is always a concern in the High Plains and does occur every year, he said. However, the region did not see the extreme amount of injury and crop loss that occurred in other regions from Winter Storm Uri because vines were still well into the dormancy period at the time.
“The winemakers will have a better idea about how the overall quality of the grapes translates into the 2022 vintage, but aside from the excess heat and water stress this year, the vines held up quite well,” he said. “The quality from this region is always good.”
Cook said North Texas growers experienced similar weather conditions, including the late start and early finish amid drought and high temperatures. Fruit sets and sizes were slightly below normal, but he said high winds contributed to early losses.
The region experienced far more days with 40 mile per hour winds or greater during April and May than normal, Cook said.
“There was no loss to a late spring frost, but the high winds contributed to fruit sets that were 10%-30% below normal, depending on variety,” he said. “Quality has been nice, and we did get some critical rains earlier in the season that helped.”
Dry conditions also helped fruit avoid disease, Cook said. But there were some issues with blanc du bois and tempranillo vines that were damaged by Winter Storm Uri, especially in vineyards where retraining the vines was an issue.
Blanc du bois vines were retrained from the ground while the grafted tempranillo vines were stubbed back to a foot and retrained from suckers this way, he said. The process of retraining can take multiple seasons for fruit yields to recover.
Drought exacerbated the stress on damaged plants, and it showed this summer, Cook said.
“There were challenges, but the quality has been phenomenal, and I think many of the producers and wineries seem to have bounced back from the pandemic-related issues and many are currently in the fermentation process,” he said. “So, 2022 should be a great vintage for North Texas.”
Crowley agreed that Texas vineyards are likely producing a good vintage despite recent challenges.
Demand for Texas wine grapes remains strong, and quality will drive prices for growers, Crowley said. Any price increases that consumers may see will likely be related to processing and logistical costs, including labor, bottles and shipping.
“Texas growers are tenacious because they grow in a very hostile environment,” she said. “Vines face constant stress in a normal year, but this year was particularly difficult because of compound stressors. But even after all the challenges, I think the 2022 season should produce a nice vintage.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Some counties were still in dire need of moisture, while others received multiple inches of rain. Cotton harvest started but may be delayed by wet field conditions. Pasture conditions were still declining in dry areas, but moisture should improve grazing in areas that received rain. Supplemental feeding continued, and the search for hay broadened. Producers continued to cull herds, and some sold out completely. Forecasts called for large amounts of rain across the district for the coming week.
Weather was mostly hot and dry, but some areas did receive rain. Areas reported between 0.5-3 inches of rainfall. The rain will not help many dryland cotton acres, but grazing should improve on rangeland and pastures. Tank water levels improved in areas that received rain. More rain was in the forecast. The moisture should also help as wheat planting nears. Producers will likely plow and prepare wheat and oat fields for planting as soon as fields dry enough. Cotton was blooming, and sorghum was turning color. Corn and sorghum harvests were complete in some areas, and yields were low. Rangeland and pasture conditions should improve in areas that received rainfall, and runoff should improve water levels in tanks, lakes and reservoirs. Cattle were being fed supplements or sold, but the rainfall should improve forage growth. Recovery in rangelands and pastures could take some time in some areas. Sudan grass and haygrazer fields burned up under the arid conditions.
Scattered showers continued to improve topsoil moisture in some areas. Cotton and rice harvests continued, but some were interrupted by scattered rain. Cotton yields were well below average. Rangeland and pastures were improving in areas that received rain. However, it will take some time before it is ready to graze. Ponds were still low, but some caught runoff water. Recent rains likely delayed baling of rice stubble hay for weeks. Producers could cut and bale a little hay before growing conditions decline this fall. Livestock were being fed. Cattle remained in good condition with very high prices being paid at auction. Livestock auctions were still reporting large runs of cattle.
Scattered rainfall was received in some areas, but not enough to help. More rain was in the forecast. Pasture and rangeland conditions were very poor to poor. Subsoil conditions were very short. Topsoil conditions were very short to short. Producers continued culling cattle. Hay supplies were very short. Producers reported wild pig and gopher problems.
The district received 0.5-5 inches of rain with most areas receiving around 1-2 inches. Much of the rainfall was slow and soaked in, but some harder rain was good for stock tanks. Cooler temperatures and more rain were in the forecast. Pasture conditions were expected to improve rapidly. Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels fluctuated depending on location. Dryland and irrigated cotton bolls were opening, but most irrigated fields were behind dryland cotton. Recent rains should help reduce wind erosion. Sorghum aphids were still being found in fields with heavy canopies. Cattle were in good condition.
Light scattered showers helped late-season crop development. Soil moisture levels were short. Corn silage harvest was around the corner, and irrigation continued. A lot of the corn experienced pollination problems due to high temperatures. Wheat pre-plant activities continued. Some haying of summer annuals occurred, but forage yields were low. Cattle were being supplemented or sold. Rangeland and pasture conditions were poor.
The average daytime and nighttime temperatures were 90 degrees and 70 degrees, respectively. Rainfall reports were between trace amounts to 5.5 inches, with some flooding reported in western parts of the district. Storm systems were expected to continue moving through the district over the next week as well. Corn and sorghum harvests were completed, but yields were very disappointing. Cotton was starting to square, and the rain and cooler temperatures should help plants recover from heat and drought stress. Irrigated haygrazer progressed rapidly over recent weeks. Wheat plantings should emerge shortly to take advantage of any moisture. This may allow cattle to be kept a bit longer and hopefully avoid being shipped.
Spotty rain fell across some areas with trace amounts up to 3.5 inches reported. Water-intensive trees and brush were still going into dormancy due to lack of moisture. Drought conditions persisted. Water restrictions were still in place in some areas. Corn and sorghum were harvested, and cotton harvest was starting. Pastures needed more rain, and cattle continued to be sold as hay supplies were running short. Livestock and wildlife were still being heavily supplemented. Surface and well water levels remained low.
Northern, southern and eastern parts of the district reported mostly adequate soil moisture and areas with short soil moisture while western areas reported very short to short conditions. Atascosa County conditions have improved slightly but have a long way to go. Heavy rains delivered up to 10 inches in some areas, and most areas across the district received more than 1 inch of rainfall. Crop and irrigation wells received some relief, but rains came too late to impact most row crop outcomes. Corn harvest was complete. Cotton and peanut fields continued to develop. Some cotton and sesame fields were harvested. Continued rainfall could impact cotton quality. Fall crop preparation for wheat, oats and triticale is underway. Pastures and rangelands were greening up, but cattle still relied on supplemental feed and were being culled. Tank water levels were full or improved with runoff. Producers prepared cool-season forage fields or were expected to when conditions dry enough for equipment. Irrigation in sugarcane and citrus ended. Water and browse availability for wildlife improved dramatically. Creeks and rivers were full and running. Falcon Lake water levels were rising from rainfall in the watershed.