Welcome to Lost Oak Winery's Blog.
In 1995, I bought the property on which Lost Oak Winery is located. My main decision for buying this property was the excellent soil and drainage profile for growing wine grapes. I then planted our first Estate vineyard in 1998. That was 22 years ago, and I did not know which grape varieties would do best on this tract of land, so I planted 7 different varieties. Shiraz performed the best by far so when I planted our second Estate vineyard, we chose to plant mostly Shiraz and Blanc DuBois. Blanc DuBois also performed very well so we decided to pull up all of the other varieties and re-plant only Blanc DuBois and Shiraz.
The vineyards at Lost Oak normally have bud-break between late March to early April, and “bloom” in late April. Bloom is when the tiny white flowers drop, and the small fruit clusters appear. This is followed by verasion which normally occurs in late June to early July. Veraison is when the red grapes turn from green to red and the white varieties from green to yellow / white.
Right after veraison, we start measuring the sugar levels of the grapes. We continue measuring
until we are confident of the proposed harvest date. Normally we harvest our Blanc DuBois first
– around the last week of July. Our Shiraz is usually harvested around the second week of
August. The sugar levels are determined using a refractometer. It‘s like looking through a small
telescope where one gets a visual reading of the color change on a scale of 0 to 30. We refer to
this as degrees Brix. Although this is the most important factor in determining harvest date,
there are several other very important factors that also must be considered:
- a. Seed color (seeds need to be yellow brown to dark brown
- b. Seed texture (seeds need to be crunchy when you bite down on them)
- c. Shrivel (the grape skins need to be slightly shriveled)
These are all important signs of ripeness which, if adhered to, will give maximum flavor and
aroma when converted to wine. Therefore, if we pick too early or too late we “miss the target”.
We use volunteers to help us harvest our Estate vineyards because it is a manual process
requiring pruning shears, buckets, and teamwork. Normally, we have a substantial list of
customers, wine club members, and neighbors who want to help. We coordinate with them by
emails starting 2 weeks in advance of predicted harvest dates and then give final notice 48
hours before the actual harvest. The grapes tell us when they are ready, which means
harvest is never scheduled for convenience even if it is on a weekday when most people have
to work, or if there is a predicted chance of rain. Each year it is exciting to see the grapes
harvested and the next cycle of wine-making begin.
Grapevines go dormant (go to sleep for the winter) following harvest. The timing of dormancy varies depending on location. Our estate vines here on the winery property and most grapevines in North Central Texas are harvest from late July to mid-September depending on variety. They usually enter dormancy between November 15 and December 15. One knows that dormancy is achieved whenn all of the leaves have fallen from the vines and the shoots are no longer green but brown. Once the leaves have fallen and the shoots are brown, the nutrients and water have migrated down the trunk into the roots beneat the surface of the ground. This offers protection from freezing until spring. Grapevines requires very little maintenance during dormancy, especially nutrient or herbicide and insecticide maintenance. However, there are two very important mainenance activities:
- Pruning. This is critical and in North Central Texas, the timing is very important because pruning too early can stimulate bud break and as stated above, we want to avoid early bud break because of late spring freezes. Once the vines are dormant, we prefer to wait until late February - early March to prune.
- Sufficient water supply. Although grapevines do not need as much water during dormancy, it is possible to have periods of drought. It is important to monitor soil moisture and irrigate if the roots do not have adequate access to soil moisture.
Sometimes in Texas we have warm days in the early spring (late February - early March). When this happens, it is possible to have early bud break and then a freeze in mid to late March that can destroy the primary crop for that year. Some varieties can still have a secondary bug break, but it is usually much less productive than primary bud break (10% to 40% of normal crop load). Normally, early spring freezes do not kill the vines. This, however, is possible if the freeze is severe (temperatures less than 15 degrees F).
Bud break normally takes place here between early to mid-March. There will be small green leaves budding out on pruned spears that begin to develop into shoots. Dormancy is over. These buds will develop into long shoots (3-5 feet or more). These vines then experience bloom in mid to late April. Bloom is when the small clusters shed their flowers and then develop into clusters of small grapes.
I first saw this 52 acre property in 1995 and was fortunate to find out that it was for sale before it was listed. I loved the slope of the terrain and the soil type (Sandy clay loam). Wine grapes do not like “wet feet”. They like fast draining soils like sand or rock (not heavy clay). I got permission from the owner to do a soil percolation test and the rate (how fast the water drains down through the soil) was excellent. I looked up the region and found that it was in the Cross timbers Ecoregion 29D which was described as excellent for agriculture. I then worked with my Real Estate friend Rob Orr to purchase the property.
We planted our first estate vineyard here in 1998. This was the same year I retired from Alcon. We planted eight different varieties because I wanted to find out which varieties did best in this climate and soil type: Chardonel, Shiraz, Leon Millot, Chambourcin, Gewurztraminer, Muscat Canelli, JS12-428 and SV5-247. These vines made up a total of 12 rows (about ½ acre).
In 2004 we planted our second Estate vineyard on the back of our property (about 2.5 acres) and here we planted more Shiraz and Chardonel and 4 more varieties: Ruby Cabernet, Malvasia Bianca, Tempranillo, and Blanc Dubois.
Two years later (2006) I planted our third vineyard which was ½ acres of 100% Lenoir or Black Spanish.
I definitely learned what did well and what did not do well. Shiraz and Blanc Dubois did beautifully. Although the Chardonel did well here I decided to eliminate it in favor of the other two varieties because it was less well known to our customers and it mainly served as a good blending variety. I ripped up the poorer performing varieties and have been replacing them for the past 6 years with Shiraz and Blanc Dubois. All total we now have 3.5 acres of these three varieties on our Estate property.
Then in 2008, I made a deal with a former Alcon colleague who owned property on FM 917 (about 6 miles south of our Estate property). He wanted an Agriculture tax exemption and I needed to plant more grapes to keep up with our growth.
I studied Viticulture, but my real education came from experience (messing up over and over again!) I had great consulting help from Dr. George Ray McEachern and later from Fritz Westover and I must say that all in all I am very proud of what I have been able to accomplish.
I had no idea how little control one has over the outcome each year. Late freezes, hail storms, tornados, high winds, no rain for months, and new critters. By the way, wine grapes are not susceptible to COVID -19.