2018 Mid-Harvest Report - Fall Creek Vineyards

17th Aug 2018 @ 13:28 by Ame

2018 Harvest Report: All About the Viticulture and Less About the Winemaking

August 16, 2018

We all know that expression, “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute”. As a winemaker in the Texas Hill Country, I have aggressively studied historic weather charts, recorded high/low temperatures and dates, had sleepless nights with my eyes glued to ominous cloud patterns sweeping over the west Hill Country radar maps, and tried in vain to see a pattern in the chaos. Once again, nature has left us in awe…a season unlike any we have seen or expected and a spectacular harvest in return.

What started as a surprisingly cold winter with a few shocking snowfalls transitioned into a cooler than average spring. Bud break occurred at an expected time and we luckily avoided late spring freezes and devastating hail storms. At this stage, we anticipated a long, slow ripening season and perhaps a later than average harvest.

Quite the contrary, as nature caught us off guard yet again delivering the hottest summer since I began working at Fall Creek in 2013 with a hot smack in late May and numerous record-breaking high temperatures during a late July heat wave. Veraison set on quickly, and thus began one of the speediest ripening periods I have ever witnessed. Crisscrossing the state, in a mad dash to gather grape ripeness (brix) data from the many vineyards sources, I realized that harvest was coming like a freight train. The vineyard and winery crews rapidly harvested and received two-thirds of the harvest haul in less than two weeks with barely a moment to catch a breath or some sleep!

  Growing Degree Days to date    Cumulative Growing Degree Days    Cumulative Precipitation to date

The weather broke this past week, with some sweet, gentle rain, and a “cold front” that slowed down the process for our later ripening varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon. We will have a little extra hang time for these varieties, and perhaps harvest them even later than last year. Thanks to this relief, our winery crew had a little break before the final harvest haul.

And the grapes? We have amazing quality, albeit smaller yields, with the exception of Mourvèdre which is clearly a heat-loving variety well suited for this part of Texas. Impressed, Phil Price, Winemaker, noted that the chemistry of the grapes this season reminds him of what he looked for in top vintages in Napa Valley. His assessment is, “great sugar to acid ratio…high brix, best acids in years”. The quality of the grapes this vintage makes it easy on the winemaker because everything we want is naturally present in the grapes. The 2018 vintage is all about the viticulture and less about the winemaking.

   Tempranillo Salt Lick Vineyard       Merlot Certenberg Vineyard         Lenoir Fall Creek Vineyard

This year we will get to see a wider range of vineyard and varietal expression, as we have expanded our wines to include some new vineyard sources and new wine styles. We have been overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response to our Grenache Rosé the past two years and have dedicated a significant portion of our Sangiovese from Salt Lick Vineyards to be made into a dry Rosé that will be super fresh and savory. We are also making our first Rosé from our Fall Creek Estate Lenoir grapes which have a brilliant color and punchy aromatics. We also harvested the first Cabernet Sauvignon lot from Salt Lick Vineyards, which was planted in 2014, and Cabernet Sauvignon from our first estate harvest from the Oxbow Vineyard at Fall Creek in Driftwood. It will be exciting to see the range of terroir expression in Cabernet Sauvignon from three different vineyards in the Texas Hill Country as we compare the quality to our longstanding Cabernet source, Certenberg Vineyard. We also found a new source of Sauvignon Blanc in the Cerro Santo Vineyard near Lubbock in the High Plains AVA, a region we have not sourced from in many years. Highly aromatic and showing great freshness, this Sauvignon Blanc will be a perfect complement to our 30-year old Sauvignon Blanc source in Escondido Valley, Texas.

Pear Tree Block in Salt Lick Vineyards

In the winery, we are still experimenting with different techniques to bring out the intrinsic quality of the grapes. We allowed all the 2018 red grapes and some of the white grapes to proceed into natural fermentation with ambient yeast. We conducted several small batch fermentations in a range of bins and totes to isolate the distinct personality of the grapes and vineyard source. We further diversified our cooperage collection this year, bringing in more French oak barrels, and we continue to prioritize the marriage of high quality grapes with elite barrel quality. It has become increasingly clear that our single vineyard and select block ferments are worthy of special handling and distinctive labeling.

A rainbow of mid-ferment wines (left to right): Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Grenache Rosé, Sangiovese Rosé, Grenache Noir, Merlot (bin), Merlot (tank), Tempranillo, Syrah

While we are excited about the vintage as a whole, a few harvest lots stand out as notable: the Salt Lick Vineyard Pump House Tempranillo is stunning with fine structure, the Salt Lick Vineyard Pear Tree Block Cabernet Sauvignon has almost perfect chemistry, small berries and deep color, and always a favorite, the Salt Lick Vineyard Mourvèdre, has especially rich aromatics this vintage. Across the vintage, we are finding that the red grape skins are firmer which will lead to more structured wines with firmer tannins and will perhaps require lengthier barrel ageing regimes. While patience is a virtue in winemaking, we know you are thirsty, so we are releasing some mind-blowing wine from our 2016 harvest in a month or so that will keep your cellars stocked and your wine glass full until the 2018’s are ready for release.

Sergio Cuadra, Director of Winemaking Fall Creek Vineyards

Contributing author:
Phil Price, Wine Maker Fall Creek Vineyards