Local grape harvest at 90 % loss

Reported by: Rebecca Rivers
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Updated: 9/10/2013 1:22 pm
With the help of some family friends that had been growing grapes in the Brownfield area for over 20 years, Andy Timmons started Lost Draw Vineyards with only five acres of grapes in 2006. Although Timmons stays diversified with many crops including peanuts and cotton besides grapes, he said that one of the reasons West Texas is ideal for vineyards is that grapes can survive on only eight to ten inches of water a year.

"The biggest thing that we have is our elevation, so we get a big variation in temperatures, Timmons said. "Also we have a dry climate, so we don't have a lot of disease problems like maybe you would around the Gulf Coast. And we have a lot of land."

The idea of Lost Draw Vineyards came about after a big change in Texas law. Timmons saw an opportunity to try something new. But as he's learned the hard way, weather can have the cards stacked against you.

"The law changed a few years back where wineries can sell direct to consumer, and that brought about an expansion on wineries that can sell direct to consumer in Texas," Timmons said. "On good years you can make really good money, but you have to save some back because you have a year like this with a 90% loss basically."

Four late freezes back in April and May of this year completely wiped out several of Lost Draw Vineyards 13 varieties. Timmons said that only the later budding, hotter season varieties are able to be picked now.

"Since I got started, the worst peril that we've had has been the late freezes. We've had two out of the last five years I guess we've had late freezes. This has been devastating," Timmons said. "A lot of the vines have died and are having to be replaced in some instances. This is one of the few varieties that we have that actually has a normal crop on it. It's called mourvedre, but this variety was able to withstand the four late freezes that we had because it buds later."

Although cold temperatures as well as hail have proved to be hazards to Timmons and other area growers, the good news is that the infrastructure behind the vineyards is growing. Now Brownfield-grown grapes can be processed right there in Brownfield, too. 

"The harvester is running through a white Italian variety called vermentino and it's going to a winery in Pittsburg, Texas called Los Pinos," Timmons said. "It's being processed here in Brownfield at the Texas Custom Wine Works facility. And that facility is great because these grapes will go from the field, about a ten minute ride to the crush place where they will be crushed and then have them cold in another hour."

Another draw for Timmons to the grape industry is the close knit family the producers make up. During harvest, Lost Draw Vineyard's neighbors come join in the fun, too.

"I really enjoy the wine industry," Timmons said. "I didn't really know anything about wine when I started this business. I've had to take a crash course and get laughed at a few times for my French pronunciation of things, but it has been a good experience. The people in the wine industry are really great. It's kind of a family, and we don't have a whole lot of people in the business right now, so we try to help each other out all we can."

After harvest, Timmons will spend the winter in a labor intensive effort to prune back the vines to get ready for the 2014 grape growing season, which will hopefully come without a late freeze.
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