Let's Talk over Drinks
Saying that we’ve had an atypical growing season doesn’t really capture the complexity of what we’ve seen in the vineyards in 2021. I think it is more accurate to say this is a very un-Texas harvest.
Let’s start with the biggest weather event of the year, the historic deep freeze in February. Believe it or not, it wasn’t catastrophic. Yes, we lost some vines, but it didn’t necessarily change what the amount or quality of the grapes was this year.
Hailstorms are another story. We completely lost our Teroldego and Sangiovese crop in our estate Kuhlken Vineyard in the Texas Hill Country due to spring hail damage. Sadly, we will not have these two varieties in our 2021 wines. We’ll also have much smaller than desired crops for Graciano and Syrah from the Texas High Plains because of that dastardly hail.
The result of hail and freezes in the spring is that we will have a much smaller overall crop than we had in 2019—which was a big year. However, overall, with fruit from both the Hill Country and High Plains, it will be a larger crop than we had last year.
Perhaps the most un-Texan aspect of this season is the cooler than normal temperatures. We have had far fewer days with temperatures in the 90+ degree range than in a typical season. Less heat means our grapes ripen more slowly. That and the late-season rains have delayed our harvest by a couple of weeks.
We are just getting started with harvest in the Texas Hill Country. We expect to pick Petite Sirah and Carignan next week (mid-August). Thankfully none of our grapes have had serious problems because of the rain, no fungal pressure, or shut down on ripening. Rain has been great for our new vines planted in Kuhlken Estate Vineyard! We only have about a half dozen small blocks to pick various vineyards, so we will be done with our Hill Country yield fairly quickly.
We are keeping our eye on the vineyards in the Texas High Plains. We just got our first round of meaningful chemistry numbers this week, which we usually receive in July. Most grapes just went through veraison in early August, and harvest is three weeks behind. We anticipate picking white grapes first, starting the week of August 23. Tempranillo is the first red grape we’ll pick. Those grapes are starting to put on sugar now. We expect to see them ripen by the first week or two of September.
We are fortunate to have many long-term relationships with growers in the High Plains and are looking at really healthy crops from our traditional blocks at Bingham Family Vineyards and Reddy Vineyards. We’re excited to have Viognier in good quantities after having a shortage of our mainstay varietal in 2020. The Vermentino is looking great as well. We have a couple of blocks of Grenache and Mourvèdre in Desert Willow Vineyard near Seminole, Texas and the vines look amazing this year. We’re really excited about this beautiful crop.
As long as we can avoid late summer storms and heavy rains, the later harvest can mean a fantastic 2021 harvest. Having our crop hanging later into the season brings the promising potential for balanced chemistry as the grapes ripen. The cooler temperatures and cooler nights allow the grapes to retain their natural acidity really well while the grapes achieve phenolic ripeness and gain more sugar. We’re usually racing to pick the grapes that are ripening very quickly in high temperatures.
It may be an Un-Texas Harvest in many ways, but what remains incredibly Texan is that our vineyard manager, our growers, and our cellar team are all pulling out the stops to ensure we have the best quality grapes in the winery as possible. We’re optimistic for a great 2021 vintage.
April has kept us busy at Pedernales Cellars, with spring weather drawing guests to our winery, Wine Club members pickup party, and planting new vines at Kuhlken Vineyards!
Winemaker, president, and co-founder David Kuhlken and vineyard manager Evan McKibben have been busy in our Kuhlken Estate Vineyards this season. The vineyard team has planted more 5,000 vines this year to replace underperforming vines and to expand acreage under vine. To ensure the new vines have a good start in the infertile soil and degraded sandstone in Kuhlken Vineyards, we spread a manure compost with our mulch spreader.
Our site, located in Bell Mountain American Viticultural Area, was originally planted in 1995 and is a fantastic location to grow Mediterranean grape varietals. This season we planted Grenache, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre, and Sangiovese.
Some of the new vines replace vines that have been damaged in severe weather. Evan McKibben said, “We have already seen that some vines planted last year did not survive. In addition to the damage to young plants, we had more damage in the Tempranillo mature vines than in any other variety. Fortunately, the Albariño fruit looks really good. We are mainly focused on new plantings for the next three years for expansion rather than to replace vines. We had forecast a light fruit load this year, so the freeze we had did not affect us much. We should have a great fruit set for the 2023 harvest and then build steadily from there.”
David Kuhlken sees a program of steady planting next spring and in the coming years.
“Going forward we will still have many of the same varieties with the replant. Namely, Tempranillo, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Touriga Nacional, and Tinta Amarela. But we are adding blocks of Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, and Graciano to the mix, reflecting the things that have proven consistent complements in our most exclusive reserve wine called KO and Reserve programs. We also have increased the amount of Sangiovese because it really has been a great variety in the Hill Country.
Grenache will take a few years to be mature enough to stand on its own. Joanna and I both really love Grenache for a varietal red, so the long-term goal would be to have it in the program as a standalone. Still, that could be several years down the road when it comes to the new estate planting. In fact, 2021 is the last year for the old Grenache block, and yields are quite low. In the interim, we might have Grenache from the High Plains as a varietal red.
Evan has been literally transforming things at the estate and has done an incredible amount of work these past 4 months. I will add about the planting this year, that Evan and our team will also plant 1,000 more Touriga vines, bringing the total up to 6,000 vines in 2021.
Have you ever visited a vineyard, worked on planting vines, or harvesting grapes? Follow Evan on Instagram, @vineyardevan, to see photos and videos of all of our vineyard projects. You can also follow the main Pedernales Cellars Instagram account for updates.
This week at Pedernales Cellars we have been immersed in conducting blending trials for our most exclusive reserve wine called KO. Why do we call it KO? This wine is named after the families that founded Pedernales Cellars.
It is Pedernales Cellars’ most coveted blend and it is only available to our Collector’s Club wine club members by allocation. That means the winemaking team and I get to really showcase our creativity as well as the nuances of each vintage included in KO which makes for an exciting time in the cellar.
What makes Pedernales Cellars KO wine so special?
We first introduced our KO wine with the 2012 vintage. Our philosophy for KO is to make a well-structured and complex wine with a blend of red grapes including a foundation of at least 50 percent Portuguese varietals sourced from Kuhlken Vineyards. Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cão, and Tinta Amarela are incredible grapes to work with giving the wine a consistent core with aromatic notes of leather, coffee, dark, dark fruit, and even tobacco.
Touriga Nacional by itself is less fruit driven, having more earthy and animal qualities. It is an interesting varietal that brings amazing qualities to the wine. So, we use this as our starting point for each vintage and then explore the other grape varietals that will best complement the Portuguese mainstays to craft a well-balanced wine.
What makes this a premier wine worthy of allocation?
The grapes that make KO are selected from scarce lots of fruit. They come from mature vines in our vineyard that are inherently low yielding. We spare no expense in the winemaking process from the grape varieties we choose to the selection of the best French oak barrels for aging.
We begin our winemaking and blending process with a firm concept of what we want in the finished wine. We identify specific lots in the vineyard to put into a higher tier for harvest and cellaring treatment to capture the tannin and deep aromatic fruit of the Portuguese varietals to be the core of KO wine. We develop other lots of excellent grapes to bring out bright red fruit flavors and complimentary soft tannins.
Every aspect of the winemaking process focuses on making the best Portuguese style wine that we can make in Texas and it can only be made in very limited quantities. We hand pick all of the grapes from our Hill Country Estate and some varieties from the High Plains too. We use hand sorting to refine down to the best lots, and selective fermentation of only free-run juice. It’s an incredibly hands-on process, and it is worth it.
What makes this vintage of KO a stand-out wine for Pedernales Cellars?
Variability in the growing conditions from vintage to vintage allow us to bring in our winemaking creativity to determine the final blend. In 2012, KO wine was made with of 76 percent Tinta Amarela and 24 percent Syrah. The 2014 vintage was a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cão, Tinta Amarela, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Mourvèdre.
Right now, we are experimenting with about two dozen trial blends in the cellar to determine the final blend for the 2018 vintage. An exciting new component in the mix for this vintage is the Teroldego, which is a red Italian grape variety grown primarily in the northeastern region of Trentino-Alto Adige. Teroldego is growing really well in the Texas High Plains and is an incredibly big fruit with nice tannin and brings fantastic qualities to our blend.
Another new grape in our mix this year is Grenache. We now have 12-year-old Grenache vines in our vineyard which bears hearty fruit that makes age-worthy red wines, rather than light styles.
Where to find KO wines.
Join us on Sunday, October 20 for our KO Wine Pick-up Party, for 6 or 12 bottle club members. We will release our 2017 vintage, with less than 100 cases available.
As a special treat, we will taste the 2018 vintage from the barrel.
We can’t wait to hear what you think.