Freezing in Time

Without question, Texas is undoubtedly the most hostile place on the face of the planet to grow Vinifera wine grapes. Countless experts have said that growing quality Vinifera wine grapes in Texas just simply couldn’t be done, but If there’s one real lesson we’ve learned over the past year about growing Vinifera vines in Texas it is this: if you attempt to grow Vinifera wine grapes in Texas like you would in other corners of the world, you will fail.  In Texas our vines are up against every conceivable agricultural threat.  They face drought, unrelenting heat, disease and bug pressure unlike anywhere else.   Add to that the Texas Hill Country’s late spring freezes, which mean almost certain death for most Vinifera vines in Texas…unless you can keep them Freezing in Time.

To protect the vines and emerging buds from a late spring freeze, the most effective way to keep the temperature of the the buds Freezing in Time is to use an overhead sprinkler system.  It’s takes precise timing to get it right, and a single mistake can cost you your entire crop for the season.  The key is to apply enough water (~55 gallons per minute per acre) at exactly the right time based on precise calculations of water application rate, temperature, wind speed, and dew point to keep the vines ‘Freezing in Time’ without letting them becoming ‘Frozen in Time’.  After bud break temperatures below 28 degrees F will kill 10 percent of buds, and lows of 24 to 25 degrees F will kill 90 percent of the buds. As long as you can keep the ice forming on the vines and you don’t let the process of freezing stop (ice should be clear or freezing, not cloudy or frozen), then the temperature of the vines and the new spring buds will stay at, or slightly above 32 degree F.  Amazing, but not easy.

We experienced this practice first-hand last night as we were up most of the night helping our good friend Drew Tallent at Tallent Vineyards to ensure that his freeze protection system was working to its full potential.  We had a few issues with some sprinkler heads getting clogged, but we were able to find them quickly and get them repaired, keeping the process going.  The dew point was in the teens, so we started the sprinklers last night as the temperature hit between 40-43 degrees F, the wind was a steadying 2-4 mile/hr…it was the perfect storm.

And it worked! This morning as the sun rose over the vineyards, the vines were encased in clear sheet of ice and the sprinklers were still pumping away. Below are just a few of the pictures we captured at sunrise this morning. It was one of the most beautiful sights we’ve ever seen.  Clear icicles.  Protected buds.  Sunlight.

Unfortunately, at the moment the freeze protection system at Robert Clay Vineyards is in need of some serious repairs and is not functional at this time, which means for this season we just pray and hope for the best. Luckily, unlike most Texas vineyards, we weren’t expecting any fruit this season since we are retraining all our vines.

One more night to go! Please be sure to keep all of the Texas vineyard owners in your thoughts and prayers as you go to bed tonight.  While you are warm and likely enjoying a glass of your favorite red, vineyard owners are making sure that this year’s crop makes it into bottles for next year.

For more information about the freeze protection system used at Tallent Vineyards contact:

Pacific AG Water Inc.
1355 W Main St,
Santa Maria, CA 93458

(805) 922-6943

For more detailed information on Frost Protection visit the following UC Davis Biometeorology Program site.

Here is some video footage that was shot by ProductionFor as part of a new show we are working on related to my families transition into the Texas wine business.


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