If You haven’t Already Heard It Through the Grapevine…

By Boone Holladay, Fort Bend County Extension Agent—Horticulture

There are a couple standards that Texans live by. First, everything is bigger in Texas. Second, if someone says that it can’t be done in Texas, well, we’ll not only prove them wrong, but we’ll do it bigger, better, bolder, and with a little Texas flare added for good measure. Now with that the stage has been set, let’s talk wine grapes!

The viticulture industry in Texas has grown from a tiny niche in the 1980’s up to a big player in the US wine market. This is due to a group of pioneer-minded individuals and a bunch of research and consulting from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. Beyond state specialists, Extension has allocated regional viticulture specialists throughout the State. These individuals are knowledgeable on the climate, growing conditions, and varietals that do best in each region. In Fort Bend County, our region is entitled the Gulf Coast region. Yes, this region goes all the way from Orange down the complete Gulf coastline down to Brownsville. That’s quite a bit of diversity.

All this said, I’d like to spend a minute to introduce our new Gulf Coast regional specialist, Ms. Fran Pontasch. Fran has extensive viticulture experience in Texas. Beyond serving in several roles with Extension, she managed vineyards at Messina Hof winery in Bryan. In her recent newsletter Fran quoted “What a privilege it is to visit your vineyards during wildflower season. Every vineyard that I’ve visited so far, has Blanc Du Bois planted. Blanc Du Bois, this region’s first variety to bud, bloom, and ripen is a week or two from blooming in the northern parts of the region and have already set fruit in the Valley.” We are lucky and proud to have Fran on board.

Several weeks ago, I got to spend the day with Fran touring local vineyards; two of the notable vineyards in Fort Bend County and a research grower in Wharton. The primarily message I received that day, was that we have plenty of room to step up grape production in our region. About half of Fort Bend County soils are suitable for commercial wine grape production. This includes loam and sandy loam soils with excellent drainage, mostly found across the north and northwest parts of the county, but found in pockets throughout. The main key is drainage. If you are in are-as that don’t drain off for a day or two after big storms….well, this might not be for you, at least at a commercial scale.

So, if you are interested in growing wine grapes, commercially or for home use, here are a couple options to get you started. First off is the 2016 Black Spanish/Lenoir Symposium held on Friday, May 20, 2016 at the Cat Spring Agricultural Society Hall in Austin, County. Taming the Beast in the Vineyard & Winery: Lenoir or Black Spanish, regardless of what name we give it – this grape grows perfectly in the Gulf Coast region. Across the state, winemakers are making robust red wines. Join us for a day of learning, tasting, and sharing your thoughts. Fee – $75. Pay at the door, includes lunch, materials, and tastings. Beyond this upcoming event, Fran schedules a range of events throughout the calendar. If you are ready to take the plunge, reach out to Fran at fmpontasch@tamu.edu and get signed up for announcement of future events. Next, visit http://winegrapes.tamu.edu for a range of online resources for commercial viticulture producers. Last, but not least, we have a small demonstration vineyard planting here at our offices in Rosenberg. Our disclaimer is that it isn’t currently in great shape, but it will offer clues of what and what not to do. Give us a call at (281) 342-3034 to schedule a guided visit.

To growing wine grapes in Fort Bend County, Cheers!

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